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The Tale of Birdie Bell

The Clockmaker’s Daughter - Kate Morton

Even though Kate Morton could, as a general rule, use a good editor to tighten up her stories (they are pretty consistently more than 500 pages long, which is long for this style of book), I nonetheless love her books. She is almost a genre unto herself - a cross between the ghost story, historical fiction, women's fiction, mystery, often with a tinge (sometimes more than a tinge) of gothic. Settling in with a Kate Morton novel is a long country ramble, not a sprint - a delightful, leisurely trek through an England that barely exists. She polishes off the rough edges and leaves something very pretty behind.


The Clockmaker's Daughter has multiple narrative voices - that of Birdie, who exists timelessly within Birchwood House. This one is more frankly a ghost story than most of her books, with Birdie's voice narrating events occurring in Birchwood House after her death. The central mystery of the book relates to what happened to Birdie, also known as Lily Millington, on the day that a murder occurred at Birchwood House. The fates of the various people, including Lily, are obscured and revealed through the entire story.


The second primary narrative voice is Elodie, a young, engaged archivist who stumbles on a old satchel that belonged to the artist Edward Radcliffe, who owned Birchwood House at the time that the murder occurred. In the satchel is a sketchbook, with a sketch of a house - Birchwood House - that stirs in her a memory of a bedtime story told to her by her mother, an accomplished cellist. This whole element of the story didn't really work for me, because it's difficult for me to believe that the description of a house from a bedtime story would be detailed enough to be identified from a sketch, but it's really just a vehicle to keep the story moving forward.


There are other narrators who are given their own voices - Lucy Radcliffe, Edward's sister, who inherited Birchwood House on his death. Ada Loveday, who was a student at the girl's school that Lucy opened after Edward's death. Lucy is the one who really knows what happened that day, and the revelation comes from her at the end of the book. It's a rather shocking ending that has left me thinking about the book.


If you are a fan of Susanna Kearsley and Lucinda Riley, Kate Morton might be right up your alley, although she is rather less romance focused than Kearsley, at least. I love her books, though, and enjoyed settling in with this one. The length, for me, is an upside not a downside - I love a thick, doorstopper of a book.


I read this for New Release, although it would fit in Country House Mystery, Ghost Story and Murder Most Foul. I don't think it has quite enough gothic elements to qualify for that square, although there are Mortons that do, especially The Distant Hours.