This is a thoughtful and well-written departure from the crime fiction that Nicci Gerrard normally writes as part of her partnership with Sean French, under the pen name Nicci French. In The Twilight Hour we meet Eleanor Lee, an elderly blind woman of ninety-four coming to terms with the fact that her life is nearly over she doesn’t want her papers, of which there are lots to be sorted out by her children. She is so concerned that they will learn more about her than she wishes that she attempts to burn the evidence, an act that causes her children to take a stand and insist that she move from her isolated house. Eleanor decides that before she goes someone independent should sort through all her possessions and Peter is employed to carry out the task. Peter is taken into her confidence as he catalogues her books, her photos and her private papers while her children organise the distribution of the larger items.
Ultimately the core of the book is the secrets that Eleanor doesn’t want revealed, even after she has gone but there is so much more to this book than that with themes of guilt, loss and love vying with the trusting and very touching relationship that builds between Eleanor and her keeper of secrets, Peter. Peter is a young man just starting out in life whilst Eleanor looks back over her life wishing that it had been different despite to all outward appearances it having been a good life; she had a loving marriage, four children and now there is a large collection of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her secret dates back to the days leading up to WWII when Eleanor was a young teacher, soon to be waving off her charges on a train to wherever they were being evacuated to and I was eager to find out what had happened that caused such an impact even over seventy years later.
Nicci Gerrard paints a picture of a wonderful large and shabby house full to the brim with relics from Eleanor’s life, the rocking horse and dolls house vying for attention alongside the grandfather clock and the piano. Eleanor herself dresses up in vintage clothes each day, not realising that the velvet skirt has worn patches or that the hem is crusted with dirt from her beloved garden. The method of revealing what actually happened all those years before is done using flashbacks as Eleanor recounts her story to Peter. The pace is perfect with the breaks in the story being supplemented with more perfectly observed details about Eleanor’s life and the relationships she has with various other family members. Aside from the touching relationship that grows between Eleanor and Peter, the supporting characters are well-defined despite the fact that in keeping with the novel, they are the background to the main events.
A delightful story, brilliantly told starring a fantastic cast of characters, if you love tales of passion betrayals and consequences, try this one.
I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books (UK) for allowing me to read this book in return for this honest review. The Twilight Hours will be published on 23 October 2014.