Kate Morton meets Daphne du Maurier in this atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.
Following the death of her last living relative, Hetty Deveraux leaves London and her strained relationship behind for Muirlan, her ancestral home in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She intends to renovate the ruinous house into a hotel, but the shocking discovery of human remains brings her ambitious restoration plans to an abrupt halt before they even begin. Few physical clues are left to identify the body, but one thing is certain: this person did not die a natural death.
Hungry for answers, Hetty discovers that Muirlan was once the refuge of her distant relative Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and naturalist who brought his new bride, Beatrice, there in 1910. Yet ancient gossip and a handful of leads reveal that their marriage was far from perfect; Beatrice eventually vanished from the island, never to return, and Theo withdrew from society, his paintings becoming increasingly dark and disturbing.
What happened between them has remained a mystery, but as Hetty listens to the locals and studies the masterful paintings produced by Theo during his short-lived marriage, she uncovers secrets that still reverberate through the small island community—and will lead her to the identity of the long-hidden body.
Sarah Maine’s accomplished debut novel, The House Between Tides, is an historical fiction title that resonates with the best combination of Gothic novels and family saga mysteries. An impressively crafted novel; carefully wound, gorgeously moody, and rich with description, The House Between Tides is a haunting and memorable read.
In a dual timeline format- similarly to that which you might find in a Kate Morton novel- Maine takes readers deep into the heart of the Blake family and their tragedies. We begin in 1945, introduced to the sister of Theo Blake, at an unsettling event. Catapulting to 2010, readers are presented to Hetty Devereaux, a descendant of the Blake family, and set to inherit the once-iconic, disputed, and imposing structure that was and is Muirlan House in Scotland.
Hetty travels to see what remains of Muirlan House- a relic of her family’s history- but she almost immediately comes up against obstructions. The first major obstacle is that of ancestors and current residents of the small island where Muirlan House rests, who do not wish to see a Muirlan rebuilt as sprawling, modern hotel. The second obstruction is that of her long-deceased relatives and their strangely obscured history. With the unnerving recent discovery of old human remains in Muirlan house itself, Hetty is drawn deep into her family’s past- specifically that of renowned artist-turned-fallen-star Theo Blake who resided and died at Muirlan, and his wife Beatrice.
As with most dual-timeline reads, there are multiple stories running their course, meeting and intertwining at intersections of the story, and drawing themselves up to the climax and slowly back down. Maine truly excels in drawing out fascinating stories, characters, and emotional reveals in both timelines. The chapters in which readers are taken into the hypnotic and shadowy early twentieth-century world (and minds) of Theo, his wife Beatrice, and the workers of Muirlan are, in a word, fascinating. At once a fly-on-the-wall study of a marriage, of adults diverging with time, of relationship between place and time, of art and memory, of land and human, and of Theo and Beatrice’s descent- this timeline is bursting (in the best way possible). While the current-day timeline with Hetty is arguably less directly shocking or surprising (though still devastating), it is by no means less interesting. The present-day timeline works, perhaps primarily, to magnify the parallel runnings of the past- especially as the mystery of the remains gets closer and closer to reveal- but more personal plotlines allow Hetty to establish interest as a character in her own right.
Overall, The House Between Tides is a beautifully written novel with a perfect blend of mystery and family drama- and a pervasive sense of unease. I would absolutely recommend for readers who appreciate historical fiction or stately family mysteries along the lines of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. As noted above in my review, readers who enjoy the work of Kate Morton might especially love Sarah Maine’s debut as well as any readers who appreciate intricate, character-driven dual-timeline stories.
I received copies of this title courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada as well as via First Reads in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.