The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton - book review

A mysterious murder at an Oxfordshire mansion in 1862 echoes down the years in a mesmerising new novel from Australian-born author Kate Morton.

Wednesday, 19th September 2018, 3:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th September 2018, 4:52 pm
The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton
The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton

Morton burst onto the scene back in 2006 with The House at Riverton, her remarkable, award-winning debut novel set around a large English manor house in the decadent Twenties.

Since then, this popular author, who now lives with her family in London, has written a string of bestsellers including The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper and The Lake House.

And she is back to dazzle and delight her readers with a stunning and imaginative tale set around another hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable rural house… a place of murder and mystery, love and lies, art and deception.

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Using her trademark elegant prose and descriptive power, Morton sweeps us across the decades and through the lives of a rich assortment of characters to unearth the truth of a long-ago summer weekend which ended in a cruel and destructive tragedy.

Archivist Elodie Winslow is never happier than when she is ‘communing with the foxed and dusty artefacts of the long dead’ in her job with an historic legal company in London but the contents of an old leather satchel leave her reeling.

The bag, once owned by James Stratton, one of the firm’s founders, contains two seemingly unrelated items… a sepia photograph of an extraordinarily attractive and bohemian-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a mysterious message and the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

The house, Birchwood Manor next to the Thames, gives Elodie ‘a pang of déjà vu so strong, it exerted a physical pressure around her chest.’

Why is the house so familiar to Elodie and who is the arresting woman in the photograph? Could she hold clues to a story from the past?

Nearly 150 years earlier, in the summer of 1862, a group of young artists, known as the Magenta Brotherhood and led by the passionate, talented Edward Radcliffe, descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames.

Their plan is to spend a secluded summer month of ‘paint and poetry and picnics, of stories and science and invention.’

But Edward also has a secret and by the time their stay is over, a woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared, a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward’s life is in ruins.

Only one woman has the answers… Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched everything unfold.

Morton is on spellbinding form in this engrossing mystery, an almost elegiac account of how a single event can so dramatically touch – and even change - the lives of others for the next 150 years.

Told through the stories of an assortment of cleverly linked characters – ranging from a gifted young artist and an unhappy late 19th century schoolgirl to 21st century archivist Elodie burrowing her way into the past – this is an intriguing and emotional journey full of drama, romance and shocking revelations.

At the centre of it all lies Birchwood Manor, the idyllic rural house with a dark secret, and its resident ghost Birdie Bell, a restless spirit who holds the key to the past… and the truth.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is packed with rich historical detail and seductive lyricism… an exciting, atmospheric reading treat that moves seamlessly through time and space, and ensures that Morton retains her place in the pantheon of much-loved historical novelists.

(Mantle, hardback, £18.99)