The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams
Publisher: William Morrow
Published: July 2019
Genre: historical fiction
The Bahamas, 1941. Newly-widowed Leonora “Lulu” Randolph arrives in Nassau to investigate the Governor and his wife for a New York society magazine. After all, American readers have an insatiable appetite for news of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, that glamorous couple whose love affair nearly brought the British monarchy to its knees five years earlier. What more intriguing backdrop for their romance than a wartime Caribbean paradise, a colonial playground for kingpins of ill-gotten empires?
Or so Lulu imagines. But as she infiltrates the Duke and Duchess’s social circle, and the powerful cabal that controls the islands’ political and financial affairs, she uncovers evidence that beneath the glister of Wallis and Edward’s marriage lies an ugly—and even treasonous—reality. In fact, Windsor-era Nassau seethes with spies, financial swindles, and racial tension, and in the middle of it all stands Benedict Thorpe: a scientist of tremendous charm and murky national loyalties. Inevitably, the willful and wounded Lulu falls in love.
Then Nassau’s wealthiest man is murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the century, and the resulting coverup reeks of royal privilege. Benedict Thorpe disappears without a trace, and Lulu embarks on a journey to London and beyond to unpick Thorpe’s complicated family history: a fateful love affair, a wartime tragedy, and a mother from whom all joy is stolen.
The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple.
It has been way too long since I read a Beatriz Williams novel, and I’m so glad I picked this one up! Fun fact: a character from a previous novel of hers is born in this one—it’s so fun when authors drop Easter eggs like that!
Lulu writes society columns for the Metropolitan magazine, mostly for the money but also to get the dirty gossip on the Windsors straight from the horse’s mouth. This takes place during WWII years when the Windsors were banished to the Bahamas, but Nassau is a thriving community of ties to Germany, hidden secrets, and a whole lot of racial unrest. Wallis was, frankly, despicable, and in many ways it sickened me to read the scenes with her in them because it feels like the times definitely haven’t changed a bit. Lulu was great though, I loved her voice and banter, her sleuthing and making connections, almost putting herself in the line of fire. I felt connected to her, and even she surprised me in wonderful ways. She may seem shallow, but boy is she full of depth, talent, and intelligence.
Elfriede, set during the early 1900s and then through WWI, is caught between the ways of the old world (marriage for social standing) and the new (marrying for love), and the sacrifices that come with both. Talk about a strong woman! She made my heart ache every time children or pregnancy arose—she, like many women, suffered postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, but men are idiots and don’t know how to help women of the time except shut them away or keep them away from children, period. All that she dealt with, all that she overcame, left me in awe.
These two women’s lives collide by the shared connection of Elfriede’s son, who becomes Lulu’s future husband. The rising tension on the island and the paths they took to get to the end left me on the edge of my seat. What an enjoyable read!
This qualifies as book 12 of 10 in my library books challenge.