The twists towards the end will make you happily dizzy

Review: Vivien Horler

Homecoming, by Kate Morton (Mantle)

With the theme of home in this satisfying hulk of a read, I thought perhaps the bird on the cover was a swallow, but no, it’s a fairy wren, a brilliant little blue bird and one of the first Australian birds to be described to the world.

It pops up often in Homecoming, and a carving of one solves one of the myriad secrets in this novel.

It is something of a family saga, and at its centre is the mystery of an appalling family murder.

Homecoming begins as two separate stories which inevitably turn out to be entangled. One is set in 2019, the other in the period leading up to Christmas 1959.

Born in Australia, Jess Turner Bridges has been working as a journalist in London for a decade or two. But her job has fallen through, her long-term relationship has ended, and she is at a worrying loose end.

So when she hears her beloved Australian grandmother Nora has had a fall and is in hospital, Jess doesn’t hesitate to return to Sydney.

Nora is the woman who reared her, while her relationship with Polly, her mother and Nora’s daughter, is distant. Nora is a powerful personality who always knows what she wants, while Polly is nervous, diffident and prone to anxiety. Jess and Nora have lots in common.

Nora also had a brother, Thomas, but he lived in London with his family and died when Jess was a child – she barely knew him. It turns out, unbeknown to Jess, he had had a first family, with a wife and four children, who lived in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. He left Australia only after his wife and four children all died.

Which brings us to the other major thread of Homecoming. It is the story of Isabel, Thomas’s first wife, who takes her children on a picnic on Christmas Eve, 1959, at a waterhole near their grand country house. Isabel is English, and homesick, and sometimes her three sturdy Australian children feel alien to her.

Towards late afternoon on a hot Christmas Eve, neighbour Percy Summers is riding his horse in the countryside and decides to let her cool off at the waterhole. And there is the Turner family, Isabel and the three children, all apparently fast asleep in the shade. Hanging from a branch of the tree is a wicker basket, presumably containing the new baby.

Yet when Percy gets closer, he realises they are not asleep at all.

Percy raises the alarm, and police descend, only to discover that the basket containing the baby is empty. She has disappeared.

When Jess arrives in Sydney, she wanders around her grandmother’s house, with its glorious garden and views over Sydney harbour, at something of a loss. Her grandmother has been sedated, and it is unclear whether Nora realises Jess is at her bedside.

And then in the house Jess finds a book, a “true-crime” story written by an American journalist, which tells of the unsolved murders of the Turner family. And she realises that this family is related to her through Thomas.

She becomes determined to find out what really happened.

You might think you know what is coming, but author Kate Morton has a devious mind, and the twists towards the end come thick and fast.

I found the first chapter a touch confusing, with Percy Summers on his horse heading towards his appointment with fate and musing about his life and family. But it paid to stay with it, as Morton was introducing some of the people who fill these pages.

She also introduces the landscape as a character, contrasting the Turners and their Adelaide Hills neighbours in the glorious countryside with Nora’s magnificent home in Sydney.

This is a brilliant book to curl up with, warm and satisfying.






  • Homecoming was one of Exclusive Books’s top reads for April.


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