The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

In brief: When Hetty receives an unexpected inheritance of an estate in Scotland, she jumps at the chance to leave her awkward life in London. But there’s an additional extra in one of the rooms that opens a Pandora’s box…

The good: I do love a story with Gothic undertones and the setting is just right for this.

The not-so-good: Quite slow at times.

Why I chose it: From the kind folk at Allen & Unwin, thank you.

Year: 2016 (published 22 June)

Pages: 389

Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Australian RRP $29.99)

Setting: Scotland

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

I kind of go a bit crazy when someone mentions a book with a crumbling old house, a desolate setting, secrets and a dual timeline. I love those kind of Gothic undertones through a book and as we’re in the middle of winter, it’s the perfect time to sit down under a blanket and devour it. I was really happy when I received this surprise book (yes, it doesn’t take a lot to excite me) but external forces conspired against me to read this at the speed I wanted. The House Between Tides is a solid read and those who are fans of Kate Morton will particularly enjoy this tale set in the wilds of Scotland.

The story is told between two major timelines, that of Theo and Beatrice in the late 1880s and 1900s before shifting to Hetty in the present day. Theo marries Beatrice and they move to the rugged wilds of the Outer Hebrides for Theo to paint. It all sounds incredibly romantic until Beatrice starts to realise that Theo has some ideas that are rather…odd. Her new friendship with the Cameron family isn’t that welcome. When Hetty arrives in the present day to the now overgrown, crumbling estate (can’t you just picture it, all grey and spooky with a lone raven calling overhead?) she’s introduced to the descendants of the family after being caught trying to break into her own inheritance. Very shortly after, she discovers there’s a skeleton in one of the rooms, which kind of wrecks her plans to build a hotel on the island. But what’s the mystery? Who is this mysterious person and what secrets of the past does it hide?

I must admit that I guessed the mystery fairly early on and did something I don’t usually do – read the last chapter to confirm my suspicions. I probably shouldn’t have though, because knowing that I was right took away a lot of the mystery. On reflection, I think I did it because the character of Hetty is rather dull. She lacks spark and is happy to be passive nearly all the time. I like my investigating heroines to be stronger, willing to buck a trend and ruffle a few feathers. I felt that Hetty just sailed through the whole thing without causing a ripple. I tended to skim few chapters a little bit more as I found the historical timeline of Beatrice and Theo much more engaging.

I always slowed down for the beautiful descriptions of the Hebrides – this is where Sarah Maine’s writing truly excels, in the sense of atmosphere and putting the reader in no doubt about how moody and a little bit creepy the whole place is. The descriptions of Muirlan House were incredibly evocative, and I had shivers down my spine as Hetty entered the shell of the decrepit house for the first time.

While I liked this book, I felt that the parts involving Hetty were slow at times. However, it’s a sound debut book and I’d be interested to see what Sarah Maine writes in the future.

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