During the Battle of Britain, London parents opted to shelter their children in more secure and safer countryside towns and villages during Hitler’s continual bombing raids which began on July 10 and ended on October 31 of 1940. Children were sent to rural homes and meted out to families of every description. Distant Hours tells of one young Meredith who ended up living with the Blythe family inside their decaying Milderhurst Castle.
Milderhurst was quite overgrown on the outside when Meredith arrived. A moat that at one time encircled the castle had long ago been filled in. A swimming pool, too, stood empty. On the inside mice ran to their nests and even an occasional rat within the cavities behind thick wood and stone walls, Most of the castle’s countless rooms stood empty, or were filled with furniture covered with dusty ghostlike sheets. Built long before the invention of electricity, the castle has only a dearth of bare electric bulbs and exposed wiring which were added at a much more modern era.
Even though the ancient castle was in need of much repair, youthful Meredith flourished there due to the kind friendship of three Blythe sisters: Percy, Saffy, and Juniper along with their nanny, Lucy. In fact, as the Battle of Britain came to an end, Meredith begged her parents to allow her to remain at Milderhurst where the young girl had learned much about the world of art and literature and The Mud Man. The Blythe sisters’ own father, a renowned popular author, penned the famous but chilling Mud Man story. He also resides as a recluse in one of Milderhurst’s towers.
During her stay at the castle, Meredith grew fond of all three Blythe sisters, yet she developed a peculiar bond with young Juniper who seemed to be the most adventurous, but also the most unstable mentally. Meredith and Juniper were oft seen sitting high atop one of the castle’s roofs looking off into a dense wood nearby. They spent many hours together.
After Meredith eventually returns home to London, Distant Hours tells of years that pass quickly by. Meredith matures to marry and raise her own family. But deep within, she carries unspoken Distant Memories, maybe even scars from strange happenings while she lived at Milderhurst Castle.
Fifty years later, Meredith’s own daughter, Edie Burchill, attempts to uncover why the mention of Milderhurst pains her mother so. Meredith visits the enormous but decaying castle and is welcomed by the three spinster sisters who are now quite elderly. Via letters and a diary made privy to Edie, she discovers that her mother’s favorite Blythe sister, Juniper, is quite deranged now, jilted by her groom-to-be long years ago. This would-be husband was to arrive at Milderhurst to feast at a dinner celebrating his and Juniper’s upcoming nuptials. But the youthful handsome hunk never arrived, nor was he or his body ever found.
Distant Hours is well told, but it could be a lot shorter. There are many places where I was tempted to skip over what seemed like unnecessary information to move the story along which, I admit, is quite intriguing as a whole. A reader will find elements of love, surprise, hate, fear, and yes, even horror, when one of the Blythe sisters glances through a window to find a really hideous mud man peering back at her.
If you are looking for a fascinating story, give yourself time to read Distant Hours. Personally, I found the book enjoyable but I think a more evocative title would have been The Mud Man.