Celia Fremlin's Edgar-winning debut novel, The Hours Before Dawn, earned great acclaim on its first publication in 1958, and it only qualifies as a Forgotten Book by virtue of its age. Many readers are well aware of Fremlin as a gifted novelist of suspense, and this book, along with a few others such as The Spider Orchid, retains its appeal to this day. It certainly should never be forgotten.
My edition, which dates back to the 80s, is a paperback which benefits from an interesting introductory note by Fremlin herself. I always find such pieces interesting. She describes how the idea of the story came from having her second baby, who used to scream through the night. A similar problem is encountered by Louise, the central figure in her book, whose third child, a little boy who can't get to sleep at night, causes increasing difficulties which are exacerbated by the arrival in their suburban London home of a female lodger, who seems to be something of a woman of mystery.
Louise isn't helped by the selfishness of her husband, and before long she starts to fear for her marriage. The husband doesn't seem to be very sympathetically portrayed, but Fremlin denied that she regarded him as some sort of monster. I'm not sure that her intentions with regard to his characterisation were perfectly implemented, but his behaviour contributes to Louise's sense of isolation and fear, and helps to build the tension.
This is a short book, with a relatively straightforward plot, and the device Fremlin uses for revealing what is happening to Louise strikes me as a little clumsy. This was, after all, a beginner's book. But it has a raw power which I find impressive, and well deserved its success. Today's experts in psychological suspense often write long, complex book, but this relatively slender and early work in the field stands comparison with the best of them.