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The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

(Allen & Unwin, $45)

Those Brontë sisters were really on to something – the scary country castle seems to be enthralling modern readers every bit as much today as it did in the days of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

New houses with good plumbing and proper insulation (if you can find one) just don’t cut the mustard as “characters” in a ripping yarn.

But let a few secrets and mysteries leach out of the damp, dark walls of a crumbling fictional family pile nestled up an English country lane and we’re all shivering with anticipation as we turn the pages, goggle-eyed and thoroughly hooked.

Few modern writers can get us in this state better than Kate oorton, who gives those 19th century literary sisters another run for their money in The Distant Hours. Fans of her earlier bestsellers, The Shifting Fog (also known as The House At Riverton) and The Forgotten Garden will not be disappointed.

Edie is a modern-day yet rather old-fashioned 30-year-old who prefers books to people and who has a rather strained relationship with her stand-offish mother, oeredith.

But when a long-lost letter arrives, Edie finds out that there’s more to her mother than she ever knew about: she was evacuated during the war, for example, to oilderhurst Castle, an old family dwelling in the countryside.

Coincidence, natural curiosity and a romantic disposition soon lead Edie to the rusted gates and overgrown gardens of oilderhurst, and subsequently to the three ancient sisters who still live there – the delightfully named Persephone, Seraphina and Juniper.

It’s their secrets and mysteries that soon start revealing themselves, but in bringing them to light, the shadows that haunt Edie’s own life start to fade into the background.

Jumping between oeredith’s evacuation in 1941 and Edie’s visits to the castle 50 years later, masterful storyteller Kate oorton takes today’s readers on yet another unpredictable journey into the past.

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