The Golden Hour by Malia Zaidi REVIEW

While The Golden Hour exists as part of a series, it is a perfectly serviceable standalone novel.

The Golden Hour book

“Those who are good, rarely anticipate the evil lurking within another.”

I must confess that even though this is book number four in the series, it is my first time tagging along with Lady Evelyn Carlisle on her adventures. This puts me at an obvious disadvantage, having to play catch up with characters who have been developed in three other books. However, Zaidi’s writing immediately allayed my worries.

She consistently feeds context on relationships and bridges the gap for new readers. Zaidi is meticulous when it comes to painting the backdrop in her novel, with rich descriptions of “inky blue” skies and fields of “fragrant wildflowers” – it all sounds so pretty. Most of the time I find myself swept away in the imagery that her words conjure, then I remember the mystery at the heart of this, which needs more of my attention.

Her chosen first person narrative also makes it easier for her to build context, as it comes across as sharing rather than telling. It was a bit difficult to submerge myself in Evelyn’s narrative initially because she is so posh and formal sounding. As I grew accustomed to her style, I admired her vivid mind and independent streak – but that is as far as her relatability travels. If I were to be critical, I would say her life seems a bit too perfect, with her tragic backstory of losing her parents when young as the only blight in her otherwise fabulous life. She is also lacking in faults, always pondering a moral lens and petting herself on the back for her do-gooder ways.

It all begins when Evelyn gets a call from her cousin Gemma, requesting her assistance with Gemma’s mother, known to Evelyn as Aunt Iris. Gemma is concerned about her mother’s sudden shift in behaviour, where she seems despondent and forgetful most of the time. Evelyn, with her Aunt Agnes in tow, travels all the way to Falkland, Scotland to check in on Iris. We are shown the very different relationships Evelyn has with both aunts. With her mom gone, her mom’s sisters (Agnes and Iris) stepped in to fill her shoes. Evelyn gets along more with her aunt Iris, which is a sore point for Agnes, since she is the aunt who raised her. It is nice to see Evelyn’s opinion of Agnes change a little during their journey, recognising that while they may be very different people, Agnes is the closest thing she has to a mother.

After their arrival in Scotland, Evelyn goes about her task of finding out what ails her aunt Iris. Though we discover the reason behind her erratic behaviour, things still don’t seem right. Evelyn has her suspicions about Randolph Tallis, owner of Elderbrooke Park and a benefactor of sorts to war veterans. Are his actions truly benevolent or is there more to the story than meets the eye? Adding on to that is Evelyn stumbling, quite literally, upon a dead body.

“The ribboned Maypole, flower arrangements, the ravaged buffet make a mockery of the tragedy that has spilled onto the lawn, illuminated grotesquely by warm light cast from the windows of the grand house.”

Usually with these mystery type novels, the action moves faster. Zaidi’s novel exists in opposition to this. It is slow and meandering, delving deeper into the family drama more than the murder mystery hand. Evelyn has a curious mind, but she cannot appear too overt in her investigation, so we are exposed to a kind of Austen set-up, where characters are adept at visiting and drinking tea in company. For all the placid and pleasant surface that is Falkland, underneath lies dark truths. The murder of a young woman at Elderbrooke park is not the first murder to occur around these parts, elevating what initially seemed isolated to something infinitely more sinister.

“Who could it be?” I ask myself as the pages spun in my hand. We are given the usual buffet of possible suspects with the requisite fake-out attached to most. Even Evelyn’s relatives are not spared from the suspect pool. It is near impossible to know who did it, or maybe I am not the most skilled detective, so I follow along, drawn in more by the peeled-back relationships than the mystery at hand. The premise of the series, which is the lead protagonist happening upon dead bodies and deciding to follow up with the case, reminds me of Dorothy Howell’s Haley Randolph series – though the latter is campy and lighthearted.

There are aspects that I am curious to know more of, namely Evelyn’s acquaintance with her beau Daniel. Their relationship has piqued my interest, so I might drop in on one of the earlier books to see how it all panned out. Zaidi has done a commendable job with her supporting characters, developing them to be more than their surface – Gemma is more than her frivolous self, Teddy (Gemma’s brother) is more than the heartbreaker ladies’ man. I guess I just wish I felt a bit more for the heroine.

Review copy provided

Verdict
While The Golden Hour exists as part of a series, it is a perfectly serviceable standalone novel. Zaidi’s novel is for you if flowery prose and family dramas are your thing. The tension and pacing is not quite adequate for the mystery element of the novel, placing the novel above average but not at a level of excellence.
7

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