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The Golden Hour


The Golden Hour

Leonora “Lulu” Randolph is a young, recently widowed journalist from New York who travels to Nassau in the Bahamas in 1941 to score an interview with the recently appointed governor, the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII), and his wife, the former Wallis Simpson. Lulu quickly learns how insular this island community is and how difficult it is to gain entrée. She hopes to use her experience as fodder for her “Our Lady in Nassau” column for Metropolitan magazine. The crowning achievement would be that exclusive interview with the Windsors.

To get close to the couple, Lulu’s new friend and bartender at her hotel, Jack, introduces her to a few society people and advises her to volunteer at the local Red Cross, a pet cause of the Duchess and one in which she is deeply involved. Lulu soon finds herself in the same social circle as the Windsors and the rest of the Nassau elite, including land baronet Sir Harry Oakes and his soon-to-be son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny, who has a reputation for wooing and marrying wealthy young women. Lulu is quite taken with a young scientist, Benedict Thorpe, who is also enmeshed with the royal couple and their friends.

"Williams pushes the envelope beyond the typical historical fiction 'beach read' to deliver a taut espionage tale that you will find hard to put down."

In the year 1900, at a clinic in Switzerland, which caters to the wealthy and is known for its discretion, we meet Elfriede von Kleist, a German wife deep in the throes of postpartum depression, who is recovering from a suicide attempt. She had been sent away from her palatial home in Germany by her husband, the Baron Gerhardt von Kleist, and his manipulative sisters, who feel she is gravely unwell and could be harmful to their young son, Johann. There she meets Wilfred, a charming Englishman recovering from pneumonia. After spending many afternoons together, the two fall in love and embark on an emotional affair during their stay.

But just as Wilfred is about to be discharged, Elfriede is summoned to return home to Germany, as Gerhardt is gravely ill with typhoid and not expected to live. Once there, she commits to nursing him back to health. Against all odds, he recovers and wants to reestablish their relationship. Elfriede still feels the sting of being exiled, and because she’s been absent from their lives for so long, their son doesn’t know her at all and thus favors the embrace of his nanny. It turns out he’s not the only one. While she was away, Elfriede learns that Gerhardt had an affair with the nanny, who is now pregnant with his child.

Back in the Bahamas in 1941, once Lulu succeeds in gaining access to the Windsors’ inner circle, it’s immediately evident that the tiny island colony is crawling with spies and crooked politicians, and scandals abound. Behind the scenes, the Duke and Duchess’s marriage is not as idyllic as it seems. The tensions on the island finally boil over after Sir Harry Oakes is found viciously murdered, and Benedict leaves town without a word. The subsequent investigation and trial are gravely mishandled, and the blame is laid at one man’s feet. But is he guilty, or is this an elaborate setup meant to protect and preserve the reputation of the Duke and Duchess? Lulu heads to London in search of Benedict --- and the truth.

In THE GOLDEN HOUR, Beatriz Williams provides persuasive evidence of what she does best --- well-researched and engaging historical fiction, told with her trademark flair. Wilfred describes “the golden hour” as “…when everything looks the most beautiful, just before the sun sets. This luminous air turning everything to gold….and then it’s gone, just like that. The sun disappears. The night arrives.” Incorporating the real-life, scandalous murder of Sir Harry Oakes (which technically remains unsolved), Williams’ 10th solo novel recalls earlier works like John Berendt’s MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL and Alyssa Maxwell’s MURDER AT THE BREAKERS. While the World War II storyline proves more riveting than the turn-of-the-century one, both are necessary to the plot.

Williams pushes the envelope beyond the typical historical fiction “beach read” to deliver a taut espionage tale that you will find hard to put down.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on July 11, 2019

The Golden Hour
by Beatriz Williams