The House Between Tides, Sarah Maine
Muirlan House is a large, remote estate in Scotland’s majestic and wild Outer Hebrides; one that can only be accessed during low tide. After the deaths of her parents and grandmother, Londoner Hetty Deveraux has inherited this crumbling house and has big dreams of renovating it into a luxurious hotel. These dreams are threatened when she discovers for herself just what a dilapidated a state the house is in, and even more so when human remains are discovered on the site. The identity of the remains are unclear, but it’s evident that this is a victim of foul play. With the help of a handsome yet standoffish local contractor, Hetty is determined to unravel the mystery of the skeleton and of the house itself.
It seems as if the best place to start is with Hetty’s own ancestor: the reclusive late nineteenth-century artist and naturalist Theo Blake. Perhaps the remains belong to Theo’s wife Beatrice who seemingly vanished from the island into thin air? Hetty begins to delve into local history and analyze Theo’s enigmatic paintings to attempt to discover what really happened between the artist and his missing wife. Hetty becomes more and more entangled with her family history and with the locals themselves. All the while she must decide if restoring the house is worth the cost: both to her own pocket as well as to the community.
The House Between Tides is a dual-timeline novel told from the perspectives of Hetty, Beatrice, and Theo. It explores the juxtaposition of preservation and progress, of the past and the present, and of nature and urbanization. There are love triangles, deep secrets, lost paintings, taxidermy birds, bonfires, and a perilous strand. It is a vivid novel with compelling characters and storylines in both the 1910’s and 2010’s.
This was just the atmospheric, gothic read I had been craving. Maine has captured a strong sense of place; she vividly brings the Scottish Hebrides to life. I could clearly picture the rocky shoreline and the crumbling estate and could almost smell the sea air and hear the calls of the soaring birds. Her writing is engaging and descriptive, with details that capture the imagination.
I actually enjoyed the past and present perspectives equally, which is almost never the case when it comes to dual-timelines. I wish the characters were just a little more fleshed out-especially in Hetty’s case-but overall found them to be three-dimensional and dynamic. Both love stories were engaging and well-balanced as well.
In fact, The House Between Tides is a novel with a good blend of romance and suspense. Maine slowly deals out clues for her reader’s to follow. I figured out most of the mystery fairly early, but there were still surprises to be had in the novel’s denouement.
Personally, I can’t get enough of stories featuring secluded estates, and this one was no different. The fact that the house is so cut off from the rest of society only heightens the drama and the sense of isolation that is palpable throughout the novel. I could really feel Hetty’s loneliness since the death of her parents, Beatrice’s constricting solitude, and even Theo’s chilly remoteness.
This is a slower-paced read, but there is still enough tension and suspense to keep readers wanting to turn the pages. The House Between Tides is practically tailor-made for a chilly, cozy evening of reading. I look forward picking up Sarah Maine’s second novel Beyond the Wild River soon.
If you enjoy Kate Morton and Susana Kearsley and/or if you’re like me and can’t got enough of atmospheric historical fiction, or dual timeline narratives, you should absolutely give this evocative novel a chance.