The Distant Hours: Ancient secrets trapped in a stone castle

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton


From the first pages of The Distant Hours, imaginations are captured, like Edie’s, by the dark tale of the Mud Man, a haunting fictional book within this one: “Can you hear him? The trees can. They are the first to hear him coming…It is moonless when the Mud Man comes.”

Edith Burchill is asked by the owner of her small book editing company to interview the twin sisters Saffy and Percy Blythe, who live with their baby sister, the town lunatic, Juniper—all of them as ancient as the moldering castle they inhabit. She is to attempt to uncover their history and a little biography of their father to include in an anniversary edition of their father’s most famous novel, The True History of the Mudman, a story which allegorically predicted the nearly final tragedy at Milderhurst castle.

But her inquiry is not impersonal. Three now elderly women once housed her own mother as a child during the London raids of WWII, though her mother had never spoken of it until a lost letter from the eccentric Juniper arrives. Though much is concealed from Edie and each other, each sister bears her own secret burden, and every story is tantalizingly unfolded from their own various perspectives, in order to create a perfectly overlapping history of the tragedies and losses within the stone walls of Milderhurst.

This book has all the eerie, fascinating charm of a Gothic novel, including a ruinous house wherein lie the: “ancient walls that sing the distant hours.” It parallels the lives of several women, all closely connected by the mysterious The True History of the Mud Man, and the tragedies and inner demons that haunt all who’ve lived in the ancient castle.

The Distant Hours is an engrossing unveiling of family secrets, the motivations of human nature, and the elaborate strides taken to protect and preserve what we deem most valuable.

The Recipe:

Though war had been declared, the children were still “eating canned pears” and singing songs on the way to their new homes where they would stay during the war to avoid the bombings in London. Saffy’s Nanny also wore pear soap. One of Edie’s coworkers also made her and Herbert a pound cake at their office to celebrate Herbert promoting her to the position of vice chairman.

Edie’s Mum also had pear cake at the Lyons Corner House in the Strand and she remembered “thinking it was very fancy.” It became her favorite, and was something her husband took her out to have on their first date. Juniper also found two pears at a market to serve alongside cake for Tom for his birthday. On the night Saffy was going to tell Percy she intended to go live on her own in a flat in London, she made a custard for them both to have at dinner.

To combine these delicious, simple ingredients, I created a canned pear with homemade custard pound cake, and drizzled some of the cakes with more of the custard.

Pear and Custard Pound Cakes



  • salted butter
  • granulated sugar
  • custard
  • milk
  • all-purpose flour
  • baking powder
  • vanilla extract
  • large eggs
  • diced canned pear

For the recipe amounts and full instructions, visit


Discussion Questions:

1. How do you feel about the story within the story, “The True History of the Mud Man?” Was it interesting, did you want there to be more to it? Be honest: Did you look it up, hoping it was a real book you could read?

2. Do you believe the memories of a house can haunt or influence people who live in or visit it? Have you or anyone you know ever experienced anything like that?

For more discussion questions, and similar recommended reads, visit the link above from



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