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4.5 stars

The House at Riverton is exactly the kind of book I like. I’m a slightly crazed anglophile, and this book hits a lot of my happy buttons.

People! The happy buttons in my brain.

We have of course, the fabulous, ancient country house of Riverton, a character in its own right. We have the doomed aristocratic family with its eccentric members, some of whom clearly yearn for medieval times, when the common man knew his place, and was grateful for it.

Narrated by Grace, a housemaid at Riverton and then a lady’s maid during the critical years of the story, there is a distinct Upstairs, Downstairs feel to it. There are young, beautiful people aplenty; wearing beautiful dresses, motoring around the countryside, going off to war, writing poetry, and partying like it’s 1929. All of the good stuff, in other words.

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The book takes a flashback approach, with a 99-year-old Grace giving out bits and pieces of what really transpired when a young poet shot himself at a 1924 Riverton house party, as well as the ten years leading up to that event. There is a very strong sense of impending doom throughout, and by the end, it’s hard to believe that one family could have so much bad luck, although it’s presented believably enough.

The House at Riverton is really nicely written, with a poetic feel and a leisurely pace that does justice to a time when everything moved more slowly, even the high drama. Morton also has an excellent grasp of period details and dialogue. While I’m no expert on the 1920’s, I’ve read and seen just enough material set in that time to catch at least blatant anachronisms.

Hey, anachronism-catching is a legitimate hobby for a few very “special” people!

I very nearly gave this five stars. There was just something lacking that kept it from being perfect. Maybe it was the fact that I generally don’t care for the whole flashback model. I don’t like being taken out of the story, especially one this engrossing, and the flashbacks did that repeatedly.

When it comes to historical drama told from a modern perspective, I’d rather just have the historical and little or none of the modern. While Grace’s story is somewhat interesting, the fact remains that the most significant event of her life happened in 1924, and the rest just never measured up in terms of drama.

Or maybe it was that I figured out the mystery a little too early. With the exception of one twist, I was pretty sure how things were going to end, probably by the halfway point. If I’d been surprised after that, I would have given an automatic five stars. (I love it when that happens!) Since that wasn’t the case, I was missing out on some suspense that I would have otherwise enjoyed.

Still, a winner overall, and I’ll be checking out more of Ms. Morton’s work in the future.

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