The Twilight Hour by
pbk out July 06
Elizabeth Wilson's third crime novel is a well-crafted, atmospheric and subtly
feminist murder mystery with a plot that is both pacy and packed with incident.
Bomb-scarred London, fuel shortages, rationing and the hard, desolate winter of 1947,
but for the young, naive, Dinah Wentworth "life was opening out in the most amazing
way." Her recent marriage to Alan, a fledgling scriptwriter, gives her access to the
raffish, bohemian world of Fitzrovia (at one point Julian MacLaren-Ross is glimpsed
presiding over his favourite pub), with its potent mix of aspiring film-makers,
impoverished artists, communist activists, property speculators, even a wandering
film director, his star the "world-weary" Gwendolen in tow, in transition between
Europe and Hollywood.
But Dinah's joy is short-lived. Sent Stanley, her spiv-ish employer, to deliver an
envelope to an acquaintance of the group, an alcoholic Surrealist
with pre-war connections to Salvador Dalí , she finds a corpse, and, out of misplaced
loyalty to Stanley, covers up her visit. It's a classic noir-ish mistake and, as the police
investigation gets under way, it has many, though not all, of the usual noir-ish
consequences. Dinah is initially excited by her inside knowledge but when later, a key
member of the group is arrested, she becomes at first a reluctant then an active sleuth.
Wilson's writing is crisp and readable, particularly vivid (as befits a key commentator
on popular culture and fashion) when she describes the costumes of the period. Along
the way, we get a detailed and credible picture of a society shaking off old rigidities
as it moves from austerity to a distantly glimpsed opulence (a Dior dress plays a key
Amongst a particularly well-realised cast of characters, Dinah stands out. Intelligent
and open-minded, she is at first unsure of herself, sometimes leaning on the group,
whilst beginning to realise that her marriage is not all it might be. And, as Dinah
grows in confidence and maturity, Wilson's writing remains sure-footed and
Then, in the final pages, Wilson puts in place a last devastating revelation that gives
the book yet another dimension. Terrific. Looks like you should also seek out her two
previous two novels, The Lost Time Café and Poisoned Hearts, published by
Virago in 1993 and 1995 respectively.