Clockmaker's Daughter
by Morton, Kate

In 1862, Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists descend on Birchwood Manor for an artist's retreat, but the retreat ends in murder and theft, and over a century later a young archivist from London tries to discover the manor's secrets.

The discovery of an old photograph leads London archivist Elodie Winslow to a house from a bedtime story told by her late mother. The house is very real, and very haunted by the ghost of Birdie, a former pickpocket and model for Edward Radcliffe-the most underappreciated member of the Magenta Brotherhood, a group of artists of the aesthetic movement-who died in drug-addled obscurity after his fiancée was shot and a family jewel stolen. Morton's (The Lake House?, 2015) fans will expect the two stories to intersect. But in her most ambitious work yet, she deftly weaves together the stories of Elodie; Birdie; Edward's sister, Lucy; a curious female student at the turn of the century; an academic in the late 1930s; a young family evacuating London during WWII; and a legend about medieval fairies. It sounds like a lot, but with Birchwood Manor, a Tudor-era home with secrets of its own, as the anchor and the missing Radcliffe Blue diamond as the chain, Morton proves once again that history is not a straight line but an intricate, infinite web. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Morton's interest in houses as repositories of secrets (The House at Riverton, 2008; The Lake House, 2015) reaches full flower in her latest novel. The author's current architectural bellwether is Birchwood Manor, a country house on the Thames. Successive generations have inhabited Birchwood, which was the summer home, briefly, of Victorian artist Edward Radcliffe, member of a Pre-Raphaelite-esque painting cabal. All the people for whom Birchwood holds a special attraction are, in some way, abandoned children. The unifying presence at Birchwood is Lily, whose connection, presumably romantic, with Edward is not immediately revealed. She is also the only permanent tenant, since she is a ghost. Lily spies on the other guests, most recently Jack, a photojournalist, and occasionally meddles. At 5, Lily was consigned to a more genteel version of Fagin's den of thieves by her clockmaker father, who then decamped for America. The characters across different time periods are enmeshed with each other and with Edward and the murky circumstances—including a murder and a diamond heist—preceding his death. In 2017, Elodie is an archivist who sees Lily's photo among Edward's effects and experiences a shock of recognition. Elodie's mother, a famous cellist, also died under suspicious circumstances near Birchwood. In 1899, Ada, a young Anglo-Indian, is dropped off at the girls' school that occupied Birchwood for a time, with no explanation by her parents, who then head back to India. Lucy, Edward's sister, inherited the house and founded the school. In 1928, Leonard, a historian still grieving the loss of his brother in the Great War, arrives at Birchwood to research Edward, aided by the now elderly Lucy. Juliet, in 1940, escapes the London Blitz for the shelter of Birchwood. The ratcheting between eras makes sorting the many characters all the more challenging, while the powerful theme of bereft childhood gets lost in an excess of exemplars. Neverth e less, those who appreciate a leisurely and meditative read, with lush settings, meticulous period detail, and slowly unfurling enigmas, will enjoy this book. Overpopulated and overworked. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted. It wasn’t, not then, but it’s a dull man who lets truth stand in the way of a good story, and Edward was never that. His passion, his blinding faith in whatever he professed, was one of the things I fell in love with. He had the preacher’s zeal, a way of expressing opinions that minted them into gleaming currency. A habit of drawing people to him, of firing in them enthusiasms they hadn’t known were theirs, making all but himself and his convictions fade.

But Edward was no preacher.

I remember him. I remember everything.


The glass-roofed studio in his mother’s London garden, the smell of freshly mixed paint, the scratch of bristle on canvas as his gaze swept my skin. My nerves that day were prickles. I was eager to impress, to make him think me something I was not, as his eyes traced my length and Mrs. Mack’s entreaty circled in my head: “Your mother was a proper lady, your people were grand folk, and don’t you go forgetting it. Play your cards right and all our birds might just come home to roost.” And so I sat up straighter on the rosewood chair that first day in the whitewashed room behind the tangle of blushing sweet peas. His littlest sister brought me tea, and cake when I was hungry. His mother, too, came down the narrow path to watch him work. She adored her son. In him she glimpsed the family’s hopes fulfilled. Distinguished member of the Royal Academy, engaged to a lady of some means, father soon to a clutch of brown-eyed heirs.

Not for him the likes of me.


His mother blamed herself for what came next, but she’d have more easily halted day from meeting night than keep us apart. He called me his muse, his destiny. He said that he had known at once, when he saw me through the hazy gaslight of the theater foyer on Drury Lane.

I was his muse, his destiny. And he was mine.

It was long ago; it was yesterday.

Oh, I remember love.


This corner, halfway up the main flight of stairs, is my favorite.

It is a strange house, built to be purposely confusing. Staircases that turn at unusual angles, all knees and elbows and uneven treads; windows that do not line up no matter how one squints at them; floorboards and wall panels with clever concealments.

In this corner, there’s a warmth, almost unnatural. We all noticed it when first we came, and over the early summer weeks we took our turns in guessing at its cause.

The reason took me some time to discover, but at last I learned the truth. I know this place as I know my own name.


It was not the house itself but the light that Edward used to tempt the others. On a clear day, from the attic windows, one can see over the river Thames and all the way to the  distant mountains. Ribbons of mauve and green, crags of chalk that stagger towards the clouds, and warm air that lends the whole an iridescence.

This was the proposal that he made: an entire summer month of paint and poetry and picnics, of stories and science and invention. Of light, heaven-sent. Away from London, away from prying eyes. Little wonder that the others accepted with alacrity. Edward could make the very devil pray, if such were his desire.

Only to me did he confess his other reason for coming here. For although the lure of the light was real enough, Edward had a secret.


We came on foot from the railway station.

July, and the day was perfect. A breeze picked at my skirt hem. Someone had brought sandwiches and we ate them as we walked. What a sight we must have made—men with loosened neckties, women with their long hair free. Laughter, teasing, sport.

Such a grand beginning! I remember the sound of a stream close by and a wood pigeon calling overhead. A man leading a horse, a wagon with a young boy sitting atop straw bales, the smell of freshcut grass— Oh, how I miss that smell! A clutch of fat country geese regarded us beadily when we reached the river before honking bravelonce we had passed.

All was light, but it did not last for long.

You knew that already, though, for there would be no story to tell if the warmth had lasted. No one is interested in quiet, happy summers that end as they begin. Edward taught me that.


The isolation played its part, this house, stranded on the riverbank like a great inland ship. The weather, too; the blazing hot days, one after the other, and then the summer storm that night, which forced us all indoors.

The winds blew and the trees moaned, and thunder rolled down the river to take the house within its clutches; while inside, talk turned to spirits and enchantments. There was a fire, crackling in the grate, and the candle flames quivered, and in the darkness, in that atmosphere of delicious fear and confession, something ill was conjured.

Not a ghost, oh, no, not that—the deed when done was entirely human.

Two unexpected guests.

Two long-kept secrets.

A gunshot in the dark.


The light went out and everything was black.

Summer was curdled. The first keen leaves began their fall, turning to rot in the puddles beneath the thinning hedgerows, and Edward, who loved this house, began to stalk its corridors, entrapped.

At last, he could stand it no longer. He packed his things to leave and I could not make him stop.

The others followed, as they always did.

And I? I had no choice; I stayed behind.

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