One of the joys of reading a good mystery is feeling like a dope at the end, knowing that the answer was there in front of you from early on but the writer cleverly hid every single clue. Kate Morton’s The Lake House isn’t one of those books. This reviewer figured it all out by chapter 32, and even the book acknowledges that there are a few too many coincidences. Still, the story Morton tells is engaging.
The mystery involves a disappearance from a stately old home on the Cornish coast. But instead of a wayward wife, we have a little boy barely into toddlerhood. Theo, the much longed for son of Eleanor and Anthony Edevane, born after a trio of girls, vanishes during raucous Midsummer celebrations in 1933. For 70 years no one seems to have the foggiest idea what happened to him. Was he spirited away by gypsies? Was he murdered and his body buried somewhere on the grounds of Loeanneth, the ancestral estate? If the story were set in New Zealand, the reader might be tempted to think a dingo got him.
The timeline swings, mostly, between Theo’s disappearance and 2003. By then, Alice Edevane, the second of the sisters, reigns as an octogenarian author of best-selling mysteries and Sadie Sparrow, a young detective, has been relieved of duty for overzealousness. With time on her hands, Sparrow takes up the cold case that involves the long abandoned manse close to the home of her beloved grandfather. Alice, prodded by guilt and curiosity, helps her out.
Another pleasure of the book is Morton’s take on the aftermath of the First World War, which wiped out countless thousands of young men and left survivors like Anthony Edevane traumatized shells. Her other theme is family relations, particularly some characters’ experiences of motherhood. For Eleanor Edevane, motherhood is the fulfillment of her life. Alice Edevane is childless. Other women have had to give up their children, while others will do anything to have one. Anything at all.
Such contemplation of maternity gives this mystery novel a rare tenderheartedness. Whether you figure the puzzle out late or early, it is Morton’s compassion for her characters that keeps you reading.