Note: I read this book for the “debut novel” category of Book Riots’ 2017 Reading Harder Challenge. Also, this review is shocking devoid of spoilers.
An 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.
— — —
The House Between Tides is Sarah Maine’s debut novel. It is set in the Outer Hebrides, islands off Scotland’s Atlantic Coast. After reading the book, I looked up some tourism sites and discovered that the islands are not exactly what I was expecting! I imagined that they were extremely rugged and isolated (which they are) but somehow I was mostly expecting a continuation of the Highlands, which isn’t entirely accurate.
So to help set you in the right mood, here are some pictures borrowed from Visit Scotland.
Ready to move here yet? I sure as heck am!
I am in love with The House Between Tides. I’ve already pimped it out to my flatmate and mother, and have been talking it up among my coworkers … speaking of, if any of you are reading this blog, want to plan a trip? :)
But in all seriousness, I am awed that this is along the first of Maine’s novels. It is detailed and layered, a perfect composition of intrigue, mystery, romance and adventure, with a bit of the mysterious mixed in. Selkie legends anyone?
I was kept guessing all the way through as to whom the bones belonged. It is clear to the reader that it must be one of a handful of characters, but I was surprised at who they actually belonged to. This individual would have been my second or third guess. I detest predictable novels, so I was perfectly content with the outcome not being what I expected.
The House Between Tides is aptly named, as most of the story develops on the estate or adjoining island, which is accessible only by land during low tide. The story flashes back and forth between 1910/1911 and 2010, although the vast majority of pages are devoted to the past. Every once in a while you will surface for a few chapters to catch the modern-day characters up on the mysteries surrounding Muirlan and to allow the reader to appreciate the impact past events still have on the village today. I haven’t read a multi-generational book like this in a while and it was a great reminder of how touching it can be to read about the ancestor and the descendent. There is certainly added depth to the tale.
The pacing of the writing carries on at a reasonable rate, keeping the book moving forward without the loss of details. I was drawn into Maine’s story and couldn’t put her book down, pushing forward to the end so I could discover the truth behind the mystery of the bones and what happened to all these beloved characters you have just spent a year and a half falling in love with.
The ending is tragic, which you might expect from the description. Clearly someone has died for bones to be found. And yet, I still was surprised by the emotions that overtook me as I read the final pages. Definitely one of those books where I was bawling my eyes out at 3am as I finished the story! There were far more layers put into the outcome than I had anticipated.
I am eagerly awaiting the second novel of Maine’s, to be published in 2017, called Beyond the Wild River. It is based closer to home, in 19th century Thunder Bay, Ontario area, and features a new cast of characters.
* * * * *