This is the fourth novel available by Kate Morton, and as far as I'm tracking, I'm now completely caught up on her writing. While this novel displayed many of the same engaging plot twists, and secrets buried in the past, I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as some of her previous efforts, though it was still an enjoyable and engaging read - especially towards the end.
The main reason for that is the character Dolly, or Dorothy. Laurel is an award winning English actress in her sixties, and her mother Dorothy is dying. While Laurel and her four siblings all remember an incredibly loving and fun childhood, Laurell also remembers witnessing her mom kill a man on their brother's second birthday in 1961. While the police files the incident away as the result of a threatening crazy man, Laurell thinks that Dorothy in fact knew the man, and only now is she beginning to wonder more about her mother's life before she came to their small coastal village, and met and married their father. For some reason, Laurel never quite realized how little they asked their mom about her past until the end is nearly here.
In 2011, Laurel slowly follows up on whatever leads she can find, which includes Google searches, days at the library and going through her mother's things as well as confiding in her brother Gerry, the other witness to the death. The novel meanwhile alternates her search with chapters set in between 1938 and 1941, slowly revealing Dolly. At first, Dolly comes off as your average, self involved teen with small dreams of grandeur but as the novel gets more into her story, it turns out that Dolly is a delusional opportunist. Not only that, but she is naive and stupid about it. Like Laurel, I couldn't quite reconcile this young, not very likable woman with the rather nice seeming Dorothy that was the mother. After all, Dolly truly believes that her employer, a rich, bitter old woman, will leave her fortune to her in her will, and develops a friendship with her neighbor Vivien in her mind. She also is rather rude to her very sweet boyfriend Jimmy.
As a result, I was actually dreading the parts of the novel that went back to Dolly's perspective because she was such an unpleasant (and clueless) person, even if she had others around her (meaning Jimmy) fooled. It is only in the later half of the novel when the chapters focus more on Jimmy and Vivien that I actually looked forward to the sections set in the past. By the end, I was enjoying this and the wrap up as much as any other Morton novel, but it does take a bit more commitment to get there, and to get caught up in the ride. Oddly enough, despite the unpleasant beginning, I would argue that this is the happiest ending that Morton has had in any of her novels, so that part was actually rather pleasant. It's still bittersweet but not quite as heartbreaking as The Distant Hours or The Forgotten Garden.