Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Celia Fremlin: Hours Before Dawn

I remember Sarah Weinman mentioning Celia Fremlin as one of the domestic suspense writers who she needed to pay more attention to. When I found one of Fremlin's books in Finnish translation, I picked it up. It was one of those books I'd always known existed, but hadn't paid any attention to them.

But boy, what a good book Hours Before Dawn is! I read it almost in one sitting. I had to take care of some business during the reading, but I really wouldn't've liked to. I heard later that The Times Magazine had included the novel in their list of hundred best thrillers, and I couldn't agree more.

Hours Before Dawn was first published in 1959, and it is a perfect embodiment of domestic suspense: the lead character is a still youngish woman with three kids and an impatient husband, and the mystery concentrates almost entirely on what happens inside their little house. Her smallest kid clearly has colic, and he shouts and screams all the time when he should be sleeping. This bugs the husband and the neighbour and keeps the mother awake. I don't know of any other crime novel that deals with colic - and actually makes the colic baby the center of the mystery.

There's indeed a mystery, but Hours Before Dawn is still a crimeless novel. There are no murders, stabbings, thefts, frauds, shakedowns or what have you. Yet this is one of the most powerful crime novels I've read in a long time.

I read the Finnish translation (see the picture; the Polish-style cover is by Finnish graphic artist Heikki Ahtiala), but the book seems to be readily available in affordable reprint.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Well, I have to get this one for sure.

jurinummelin said...

You definitely do.