Suffolk, London – The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton

KAte morton

Why a booktrail?

1930s, 1960s, 2011: A shocking scene on a Suffolk farm reveals a story of love, loss and mystery which spans the decades


Deep in the heart of the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicholson is reading and dreaming in her treehouse. Her family are having a birthday party at the bottom of the garden. Before the afternoon is over, she will witness a shocking crime that changes everything.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for her mother Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions concerning ‘that day’ that she now finds she needs answers to since her mother is dying.

From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, she examines the story of her mother Dorothy and two people she met during the war -Vivien and Jimmy— whose lives soon become forever entwined.

Place and setting

London - 7 and 25 Campden Grove’ - where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war London - Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue - and the bench beside it - Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her. London - British Library Laurel goes looking for answers here Marble Arch Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy
London – 7 and 25 Campden Grove– where Dorothy and Vivien live during the war
London – Kensington Gardens and the famous Peter Pan statue – and the bench beside it – Dorothy sits here and waits for a certain someone to join her.
London – British Library
Laurel goes looking for answers here
s Marble Arch
Where the famous Lyons Corner House used to be. Try a Patisserie Valerie to evoke the time and place to take tea with Jimmy, Vivien and Dorothy

From the sunny gardens and fields of the Suffolk countryside to the streets of wartime London, this is a story of how the fate of three people from very different backgrounds can become fatally entwined in ways none of them could have imagined.


Laurel now an actress returns to the farmhouse and the family home where she witnessed a murder all those years ago. A day which started out so well with a birthday party, laughter, family and reading her book in her secret tree house reading spot, dreaming of a boy named Billy. A day of childhood innocence which changed in a second.

Returning to Suffolk all those years ago brings back memories of every kind. From the creek of the wooden steps to the groans of the house as it seems to remember times past, the old house first seen in the sixties now becomes a house of memories and mystery in Laurel’s adult life.


London is the city of glamour for actress Laurel but back when she was growing up, when her mum was living in London during the war, it was a very different place. London in the Blitz was a dangerous place and in the streets of Kensington, Dorothy meets Vivien, a lady she admires for her dress sense, worthy work at the hospital and life she thinks she deserves.

Dorothy grows up in a loving family, spends time on the beach in Coventry but London with its bright lights and promises of adventure calls to her like nothing else has. Living in the rather posh Camden Grove just off Kensington High Street is a dream come true. Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch where she and boyfriend Jimmy eat, the shopping,  the WVS canteen in Kensington and the good work they can all do for the war effort.

Vivien and Dorothy – Two very different women living on the same street. Vivien has the life that Dorothy wants and the clothes of the time, the look, the style is what excites Dorothy in the big city. This is where she feels she is meant to be. Her new life is beginning- love for Jimmy and a new job change her world.

Jimmy Metcalfe is a photographer and captures the war’s effects on the city. His camera tells a story but it’s what’s behind the lens that really matters. London comes alive as he and Dorothy meet in Kensington Gardens, drink at the club at Marble Arch and Vivien works at the local hospital there.


But what Laurel discovers about her mother all those years ago, why a life should end in murder has its roots deep in the heart of history and war. She takes time to travel to Oxford as well and search in the records of time but sometimes the story not written on the page is the strangest of all.


I loved this novel. Loved it and there are no other words really to express how genius the plot and evocative the writing. Absolutely stunning and captivating novel about second chances and how nothing is what it seems. The stabbing of a man in the opening chapters seems such a cruel and random act from a woman who has always been a calm and collected figure. I was intrigued from the very first page as the calm scene was set before that cliff hanger. The story which spirals out from this one event is one of the most captivating and fascinating story lines I have read in a long long while. Don’t hurry it or dismiss seemingly throwaway comments in this book – every word seems to act like a clue towards the final mystery.

Wartime London – oh the detail of this with the meetings at the Lyons Tea House, the scurry of people in the streets and the rations really captured the time and place and the sense that in one street, two women of very different backgrounds could be thrown together. I loved Vivien and finding out about her work and worried about her illness and how she acted. Dorothy’s plan to harm her former friend spiralled out of control and I was dying to reach into the book and pull one of them out for safety. I wanted to hug Jimmy though as he came across as a man in love, blinded by love but good to the core. Oh to sit with him in that canteen and drink tea!

The story builds, twists and turns and shocks you when you least expect it. Kate’s writing immerses you in a world that I didn’t want to leave and when Laurel finally found out what happened that fateful day, I was gobsmacked.

Vivien, Dorothy and Jimmy – never have I been so enamored with three characters in one novel. Read it again once you know the end as it’s fun trying to spot all those clues that were staring you in the face!

The Distant Hours – Kent – Kate Morton


Kate Morton apparently based the fictional Milderhurst castle on Sissinghurst castle and visiting there you can definitely hear the walls whispering the distant hours..

Story in a nutshell

A letter arrives at the home of Edie Burchill and her mother, postmarked with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope. It was sent many years ago and has only now been found and sent on.

Edie realises from her mother’s strange reaction that this letter holds many a secret. The two have never been close.

Many years ago –

During the war, Edie’s mother was chosen by Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe family.

But years later, at the end of the war, the family experienced tragedy and the young Juniper Blythe was plunged into madness

The decaying castle and its stone walls would hide a wealth of secrets that the sisters would take pains to protect but at what cost?

Place and setting

The picture of open wooden doors leading on to a fountain in a wood immediately and literally drew me in at first. But the description on the back placed me inside the castle described within, even before I had opened a single page:

‘It started with a letter….”

“Inside the decaying castle…”

“The eccentric sisters Blythe”

“..other secrets hidden in the walls of Milderhurst castle..”

“…the distant hours….”

Not much remains of the castle today but the grand tower was apparently the inspiration for the tower which features so prominently in the novel. The surrounding gardens are perhaps the greatest feature of Sissinghurst. in another literary twist, the gardens were actually created by a writer called Vita Sackville West, and her husband. They designed it to be a series of rooms – much like those which Kate Morton brings to life in ‘The Distant Hours’  – each ‘room’ with a different character and a new view on another part of the garden. The gardens and rooms both lend themselves to yet another discovery both at Sissinghurst but also at Milderhurst. Restored  by one writer and brought to life once again by another, you will  find the links and literary history of this place enchanting.


Sissinghurst castle –

London –

             Barlow Street, Elephant and Castle where Edie lives

The old Kent Road – where Aunt Rita’s fictional shop Classy Cuts is located

                                    Primrose Hill, Portobello Market – Edie’s mum meets Tom in London here and they spend time in the area.

Booktrailer recommended!

A book about an author and his family. Three sisters with secrets to share. A girl who works for a publisher’s coming to find the mystery of her mother’s early life. And the story of The Mud Man written in the author in the book but which has a bearing on the story in the present day too.

I love novels about books and authors and this book within a book was so intertwined that it was thrilling on so many levels.

When we find out that the head of the Blythe family was Raymond Bylthe and that he wrote The True History of the Mudman, a section of which starts off the novel, I was intrigued..

It is moonless

It is moonless when the mudman comes

Does the Mud Man bring the storm or does the storm bring the Mudman?

But look , what’s that? – a shape, a mass is climbing up the tower wall.

I wanted to be Edie – a young, bookish woman who works as an editor in a publishing firm,  obsessed with Milderhurst Castle and its occupants – those eccentric sisters Blythe who still live there and the history of the author who wrote a famous children’s book.

Secrets of an old decaying castle  – were as enchanting as Edie thought they were and her personal thoughts and decisions were the same as I had – what were the distant hours and the secrets held in the castle walls?

I couldn’t wait to enter and walk along its ghostly passageways and touch its decaying walls to see if I could hear the distant hours spill their secrets. I longed to hear the history of how the mud man came about, the owner of the castle who wrote it in his tower and the reasons for the tragedy that occurred within its walls.

The way in which Kate weaves her spell in and out of every page is something I never tire of reading. An old castle and a letter that gets lost but then starts off one girl’s very personal misson is a joy to read. The fact that there are many secrets buried in the past just waiting to be discovered is a thrilling idea and the atmosphere is both chilling and fascinating.

I was entranced by the True History of the Mud Man and jealous that Edie got the chance to meet his family. Imagine finding out the true origen of your facourite childhood book? Wow.

An amazing book, and an amazing story which had me hooked right to the end. I urge you to read some of it at Sissinghurst. Its 670 pages may mean you make several trips 😉 but take your time, enjoy the atmosphere and the sounds and smells of the past because the writing is so vivid, you get to experience it all.