Where to Start Reading: Celia Fremlin

Celia Fremlin: ‘Britain’s Patricia Highsmith and the grandmother of psycho-domestic noir’, says the Sunday Times, and what a brilliant introduction that is to Faber’s very own Queen of Suspense.

A prolific English writer of prize-winning, spine-chilling mysteries from the 1950s to 1990s, she was much-loved by loyal readers for decades, but her work gradually fell out of popularity. Now, we are delighted that our gorgeous reissues of Fremlin’s addictive novels are causing such a sensation, from Uncle Paul (her classic summery seaside noir that Waterstones recently chose as their Thriller of the Month) to The Hours Before Dawn (a haunting tale of one new mother’s insomniac terrors).

Celebrated by the most famous names in contemporary crime — such as Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Elly Griffiths and Janice Hallett — she has been resurrected for a new generation of readers: and we hope you will be next . . .

The Hours Before Dawn (1958)


Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight . . .

Uncle Paul (1959)

The holidays have begun.

In a seaside caravan resort, Isabel and her sister Meg build sandcastles with the children, navigate deckchair politics, explore the pier’s delights, gorge ice cream in the sun. But their half-sister Mildred has returned to a nearby coastal cottage where her husband – the mysterious Uncle Paul – was arrested for his first wife’s attempted murder: and family skeletons emerge.

Now, on his release from prison, is he returning for revenge, seeking who betrayed him? Or are all three women letting their nerves get the better of them? Though who really is Meg’s new lover? And whose are those footsteps?

Appointment with Yesterday (1972)

Milly Barnes has just arrived in the seaside town of Seacliffe.

Between windswept walks on the beach, she settles into lodgings and finds work as a Daily Help. Except this isn’t her real name – ‘Milly’ is on the run from her past life, escaping a nightmare marriage.

Abandoned by her first husband for another woman, she took revenge by marrying Gilbert: but this proved a terrible mistake. Trapped in a London basement flat, she became a victim of his increasingly paranoid delusions. But what really happened in that underground dungeon? And is somebody on her trail, the hunter in a game of cat-and-mouse?

The Long Shadow (1975)

Jolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it.

At first, she can’t quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely he can’t honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.

As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor’s papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won’t that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen’s guilt?

Ghostly Stories (2019)

‘Be sure you don’t answer the door to anyone you don’t know.’

A little Patricia Highsmith, a touch of Shirley Jackson: the long-neglected Celia Fremlin wrote short, sharp stories that threw women’s lives into shiver-inducing relief.

In each of these twinned tales, a mother and daughter meet again, and an ordinary home becomes the setting for a return of the repressed.

Book Bundle
Celia Fremlin

A cosy crime book bundle of three thrilling reissues by ‘Britain’s Patricia Highsmith’ (Sunday Times), Celia Fremlin. RRP value: £29.97.

About the Author

Celia Fremlin (1914—2009) was born in Kent and spent her childhood in Hertfordshire, before studying at Oxford (whilst working as a charwoman). During World War Two, she served as an air-raid warden before becoming involved with the Mass Observation Project, collaborating on a study of women workers, War Factory. In 1942 she married Elia Goller, moved to Hampstead and had three children. In 1968, their youngest daughter committed suicide aged 19; a month later, her husband also killed himself. In the wake of these tragedies, Fremlin briefly relocated to Geneva.

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