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"Homecoming" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

“Homecoming,” by Kate Morton, will grab you from the beginning. It’s a murder/mystery set in South Australia. The first chapter opens with Percy delivering groceries through the countryside on a warm Christmas Eve on his horse. He stops to let his horse cool off in a riverbed, on the inaptly named Halcyon Estate, where he discovers four people sleeping peacefully beneath a large willow tree. They have obviously been swimming, and the remains of a picnic are evident. The year is 1959.

The bucolic setting is betraying. An entire family is dead. A baby is missing from the cradle. Signs of outward violence are nonexistent. Isabel Turner, the deceased mother of the three dead children, was a well-known, well-liked figure in the community. The entire town is in shock. Mr. Turner is far away in London on business and is exonerated as a suspect.

Isabel’s sister-in-law, Nora Turner-Bridges, has been staying with the family on the Halcyon estate until she has her baby. She was too hot and exhausted to consider going on the picnic. Alone in the house, she gives birth to a baby girl after she is informed of the murder-suicide, the conclusion reached by the small-town investigators.

Fifty-nine years later, in 2018, Nora’s adult granddaughter Jess returns to her Australian home to be with her grandmother. Nora, age 90, is near death from a fall. Nora is estranged from Polly, her baby born following the traumatic event in 1959. Nora has raised Jess, Polly’s daughter, in a town far away from the village in which her sister-in-law and the children died. Jess is closer to Nora than to her own mother.

In the hospital, Nora begins saying things that don’t make sense to Jess. Jess begins looking for clues around the house in which she was raised following Nora’s statements about “something secret in the attic” and repeatedly crying out to “not let them take the baby.” Jess finds a hidden historical fiction novel, “As If They Were Sleeping,” written about the deaths in 1959 on the Halcyon estate. Though Jess is unaware of the circumstances of her birth, she begins to suspect that her history, and that of her mother, is tied to the horrific deaths of Isabel and her children.

Jess contacts the family of the now-deceased author of “As If They Were Sleeping” and learns that an addendum was written, but not published, following later interviews with her grandmother. When Jess accesses this last chapter, she begins to unravel the mystery of the murders that happened nearly 60 years ago.

Kate Morton, the author of “Homecoming” employs the interesting plot device of starting with the climax of the story and then going back to tell of the events leading up to the deaths and, finally, the resolution of the tragedy. Throughout the novel, readers will be wondering if characters connected to the family are implicated in the horrific event, but as with all well-written stories, the ending is a surprise.

At 543 pages, the novel may seem daunting, but it’s not. Because the story is so intriguing, you will want to keep reading.

Kate Morton is an award-winning novelist. Her former books include “The Secret Keeper”, “The Lake House”, and “The Clockmaker’s Daughter”. She lives in London and Australia.

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