The House Between Tides

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine (Atria Paperback, 2016). Originally published 2014 in Great Britain as Bhalla Strand.

the-house-between-tidesHetty is a twenty-something Londoner who inherits a dilapidated house in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides from a relative. Steered by her ambitious boyfriend and a flashy developer, she plans to turn her inheritance into an ultramodern luxury resort — which can only be a boon, they assure her, to the local economy.

Trouble is, Hetty isn’t aware of just how broken down the old estate is, and how resistant the locals are to its redevelopment, until she does her own reconnaissance. Her arrival on the peaceful, sea-swept island is greeted with skepticism and contempt by the crofters who will lose their meagre but precious way of life – and the bad news just keeps coming. A grisly discovery under the decaying floorboards puts Hetty’s plans in doubt; at the same time, she’s determined to uncover the truth about the estate’s last, enigmatic owner, Theo Blake. Was Blake, a famous early 20th century artist – and Hetty’s distant kinsman – responsible for the tragedy?

Flashback to 1910: Theo brings his new bride, Beatrice, to Muirlan House, the family’s grand summer home. The island’s wild beauty – the air’s salty tang, lonely beaches, delicate wildflowers and exotic bird life – soon enthralls the young woman, and her naïve shyness gradually melts away. But there is a melancholy to the place that she can’t put her finger on – and her husband, twenty years her senior, grows inexplicably more remote with the passing of each long Hebridean day.

As Theo slips further away from her, the factor’s son grudgingly educates Beatrice on the landscape and the subtleties of estate management, but even he has a reserve that the young bride can’t seem to penetrate. What is it about this lonely place that casts such a mysterious and sad pall?

This is a story of juxtapositions. Just as the tide separates Muirlan House from the mainland each night, the scenes shift between the roaring ’20s and modern day, exposing the differences between generations, cultures and social classes. Period detail and lyrical descriptions of the Scottish landscape made me want to don a straw cloche and take a genteel picnic on the beach – just as much as my heart ached for the crofters eking out a living, in any century.

The author’s concise style and well-paced suspense kept me reading and wanting more of this part-mystery, part-historical romance. I will be on the lookout for Maine’s other works, including Women of the Dunes (2018), another Hebridean mystery with a Viking twist.

Curiosity Quotient:  ♦♦♦♦½◊