Female Trouble

The spellbinding novels of British author Celia Fremlin are now available from Dover!

The Troublemakers

“Why is it that when a woman is getting on badly with her own husband, nothing cheers her so much as the knowledge that another woman is getting on even worse with hers?”

This is only one of many trenchant observations made by Kathryn, the protagonist in Celia Fremlin’s The Troublemakers. Not entirely sympathetic but certainly familiar, Kathryn negotiates her small circle of fellow mothers and homemakers and their distracted or perhaps criminally cruel husbands. But when her neighbor and unhappy friend Mary begins to act out in bizarre ways, can Kathryn begin to understand how she may have played a part?

Now available to American audiences (and boy are we lucky!), the novels of Celia Fremlin will provide readers with an entertaining and terrifying read worthy of a Hitchcock thriller. Celia Fremlin (1914–2009) was a British writer of mystery novels. Writing in the Independent in 2014, Christopher Fowler noted that “[Fremlin’s] elegant crime novels centered on stressful domestic situations experienced by women fast running out of options.”

Fremlin based her characters in part on her own experience as housewife and mother, as well as work she did for the British government during World War II. She was born in 1914 in Kingsbury, Middlesex, and her education included enrollment at Somerville College in Oxford, where she studied classics. She married in 1942 and had three children. During the Second World War, she worked with the Mass-Observation organization, which documented the lives of ordinary men and women and how they felt about their lives, the war, and the British government. Fremlin published the non-fiction book War Factory in 1943, which was based on her work and that of her collaborator, Tom Harrisson.

Celia Fremlin’s second thriller, Uncle Paul evokes a similar atmosphere of suspense and paranoia in her characters — and her readers. Meg and Isabel were just girls when “Uncle Paul” married their older sister Mildred, and he vanished after his exposure as a bigamist and murderer. Fifteen years later, Uncle Paul will be released from prison, and the three sisters dread what may happen if he returns.

The other titles offered by Dover, The Jealous One and The Hours Before Dawn, will similarly rattle your id and make you wonder if the shadow in the corner is a murderer or only your own imagination.

The Hours Before Dawn combines a suspenseful story with sardonic humor to portray the life of a housewife, Louise Henderson, who is chronically tired because her infant child does not sleep much in the hours between 2 AM and dawn. Combine this with the behavior of a mysterious lodger and Louise is left struggling to decide if her suspicions are the result of sleep deprivation, as her husband believes, or her reaction to actual danger.

In The Jealous One, Rosamund and Geoffrey’s new neighbor, Lindy, is smart, good-looking, and friendly. The problem is that Geoffrey seems to be a little too friendly with her. Then Rosamund has a feverish dream in which she murders Lindy — and when she wakes up, is horrified to hear that Lindy has actually disappeared.

Sleep deprivation and self-doubt are common companions for many modern women. No mystery there. But Fremlin’s work also brings back a suburban London that is less than a century gone, but in some ways seems as far away as the moon, with fires being made up in the living rooms of damp homes even though there’s also the contemporary trappings of electricity, telephones, and irritating neighbors who have becomes experts in psychology and have plenty of boasting to do about their perfect children.

So far away … and so near.