The Hours Before Dawn, Celia Fremlin, Victor Gollancz, 1958, 190 pp
One of the pleasures of reading all those old books for My Big Fat Reading Project is discovering gems like this. The Hours Before Dawn won the Edgar Award in 1960.
Louise Henderson is the young mother of two children in 1950s London. Her infant does not sleep much, especially between the hours of 2 AM and dawn. He cries incessantly so that by the time he is just a few months old, Louise is so sleep deprived she moves through her daily housewifery duties in a daze.
Mr Henderson is a typical 50s husband who wants his dinner on time and thinks his wife should be able to quiet that baby so he can sleep at night. Neighbor women on either side of their home are busybodies: one is full of advice on child rearing and the other threatens to call the authorities about the screaming baby.
When the Hendersons let out a bedroom to a local school teacher, strange things begin to happen. It takes Louise several weeks to realize something weird is going on, being so sleepy that she is always on the verge of nodding off.
Once she realizes their boarder Vera may be the cause of the trouble, Louise turns amateur sleuth and saves her family in the nick of time.
The Hours Before Dawn equals the best of Shirley Jackson for its abundance of creeping creepiness as well as its wry take on motherhood and the plight of the housewife. Luckily for me, the book was reprinted in 1995 by Black Dagger Crime Series and I found it at my local library.