The Orchid Hour by Nancy Bilyeau

Published on Wednesday 2nd August 2023 by Griff Hosker

What a delight of a book. It blooms into life from the first page. From the moment you open the book and start to read you are emersed in the Jazz era. You are plunged into a world of gangsters and movie stars. It is like being transported back in time.

Nancy manages to combine a murder mystery with a love story and set it all against a world which seems palpably real. The New York of 1923 jumps out at you. The places and the people who populate it are long dead but brought magically back to life. The main characters, Sal excepted, are fictional but they seem real. The Orchid Room is fiction but you can almost smell the atmosphere.

The book begins in 1963 but flashes back forty years. Nancy used multi-character viewpoints and I find that an excellent way of delving into characters and their motives. You find yourself engaging with them, even those who are less likeable than others. The structure of the story races you through it at breakneck speed. It is a hard book to put down and all the time there are so many threads binding the story together that the story is like an orchid and its roots. We see the world through Zia’s life, work and complicated relationships.

The real-life characters used by the author sit comfortably with the fictional ones. I confess that my interest was so piqued I looked into some of the real characters and events. Nancy’s research is flawless.

I rarely read much beyond the medieval period but Nancy’s book made me want to read more.  This is a tour de force and my only problem is identifying the genre: is it historical, love story, crime drama, whodunit? It defies categorization and I suspect that is what the author intended. Well done, Nancy.