One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore: A haunting mystery – book review –

Less than a year after her husband was reported missing when British forces were overwhelmed at Dunkirk, Maddie Anderson’s London home is destroyed by a German bomb.

One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore
One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore

With two young daughters to care for, Maddie seeks refuge at Knyghton, her husband Philip’s family home in Norfolk, a beautiful country manor where he spent his childhood summer holidays, but a place he had kept secret from his wife.

Refusing to give up hope that Philip is still alive, Maddie becomes determined to dig out the truth about Knyghton and his shadowy past… but will her discoveries lead to yet more heartache?

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Rachel Hore, who worked in London publishing for many years and taught creative writing at the University of East Anglia before becoming a full-time writer, has become a master of enthralling and perceptive multi-layered novels and here she brings us the poignant tale of a young mother’s desperate battle to unlock the past.

With her signature empathy and human insight, Hore gets to the heart of a fiercely independent woman juggling hope and despair, and struggling to hold together a wartime marriage that has been fractured by uncertainty, distance and disturbing secrets.

In March of 1941, children’s books illustrator Maddie Anderson’s London house is reduced to ‘a cloud of dust and a heap of rubble’ during a night raid. Nothing is left of the home she shares with her two young daughters, Sarah, aged five, and Grace, aged three, and it’s another devastating blow after her husband Philip went missing at Dunkirk the previous year.

Maddie has been told to accept that Philip most likely died in action but she cannot believe it’s true and when she is handed a small package found in the wreckage of her house, with the single word ‘Knyghton’ on it, she discovers a photo album and a tiny silver key that lead her to his family’s grand home in rural Norfolk, a place she hopes will help to bring her closer to the man she loves.

Philip’s ageing aunt, Gussie, still lives at Knyghton, along with his cousin Lyle, a man she never knew existed and who turns out to be a less gentle and more purposeful version of her husband, a man she also finds ‘dangerously attractive.’

Maddie refuses to give up hope that she and Philip will some day be reunited but she soon realises that there’s a reason Philip has never spoken to her about his past. Something happened at Knyghton one summer years before, something that involved Philip, Lyle and a mysterious young woman named Flora.

Maddie’s curiosity turns to desperation as she tries to discover the truth, but no one will speak about events all those years ago, and no one is willing to reassure her that Philip will ever return to Knyghton…

Loyalty, betrayal, a deep sense of isolation, and a haunting mystery take centre stage as the sometimes fragile bonds of love and family are explored across different generations and timelines, and all played out on the heartstrings of Maddie and Philip’s complex love story.

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Set against a rich backdrop of historical and social detail, and with a taut and suspense-packed plot that weaves between past, present and future, Hore’s gentle yet emotionally powerful novel reminds us of the psychological impact of war both at home and on the battlefront.

Packed with characters that linger in the memory, an impressive authenticity that brings the past to life with vivid clarity, and a beautifully rendered story that burns brightly in the darkness of conflict, One Moonlit Night is guaranteed to bring a sparkle to springtime reading.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)