Member Reviews

Fifteen years ago, Mildred’s husband Paul was exposed as a bigamist and a murderer, and has been in prison since. Now he’s about to be released, and the idea of him coming to seek them out fills Mildred’s two younger half-sisters with a mixture of dread and curiosity. Meg and Isabel had been children when ‘Uncle Paul’ was around and their knowledge of what actually happened is sketchy. They are spending a holiday in a caravan at the seaside while Mildred has taken herself to a cottage nearby. And then odd things begin to happen…

This could be the shortest review ever. I read this months ago and failed to take notes, so pretty much all I can tell you now is that I loved it. I thought Fremlin captured the joys and miseries of a British seaside holiday in the 1950s perfectly – sunshine and rain, nothing much to do in the evenings, pretending to enjoy damp picnics on the beach, sand in everything including the food, too many children running around! The book has a lot of humour and some true creepiness in the plot, and some great family dynamics between the ill-assorted sisters, and it encouraged me to seek out more from Fremlin.

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I received an advance reader copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review via netgalley and the publishers.

Uncle Paul is a republished book from and set in the 1950s by Celia Fremlin.
I loved the cover and sound of this book, but it felt a little flat. It's well written with a few little red herrings along the way but I didn't really warm to any of the characters and found the plot quite flat. This would make a light thriller read for a lazy summer day at the beach especially one in the UK where the book is set.

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Several months ago, I read The Hours Before Dawn, one of the most electrifying thrillers that I can ever remember reading. It was compact, compelling and it captured an aspect of the human experience - maternal sleep deprivation.- which has been unfairly neglected in fiction. When I spotted that several other Celia Fremlin novels have also been reissued, I was immediately keen to discover more. And so I landed up on Uncle Paul, which has the spine-chilling tag-line 'Welcome to the Nightmare Summer Holiday'. I tried reading it a couple of months ago during my own holiday to Whitby but given that the book is set around a young woman going to help out her frazzled sister who is taking her two young children on a seaside break, it felt a little much at the time. Flash forward to autumn and it was a fine hair-raising tale for a chilly evening.

The novel opens as Meg receives a telegram from her sister Isabel explaining that their older sister Mildred needs help. Isabel is attempting to cobble together a pleasant family holiday and allow her new husband to settle in to his stepfather role with her young children, if only every single step of the process did not send her into paroxysms of anxiety. Unfortunately, Mildred has also landed up in the area, smarting from a fall-out from her husband and renting a coastal cottage of her own. In a spooky coincidence - or is it - said cottage turns out to be the same one that Mildred rented during a holiday fifteen years before, her ill-fated honeymoon to the titular Paul, a man who was shortly afterwards arrested for the attempted murder of his first wife. Could Paul be back? If so, would it be for revenge? And would they even recognise him if they saw him?

In contrast to the suburban unease of The Hours Before Dawn, Fremlin's second novel takes these dysfunctional families out of their natural habitat. Still, very similar buttons are being pressed. Truly, there are few things more stressful than a family holiday. All the organisation, the packing, the high expectations and then the panic that after all that effort, nobody seems to be having fun. And as in Fremlin's debut, the burden of so much of this preparation tends to fall on the women.

There are some fantastically well-drawn observations, particularly around the child characters. There is Cedric the know-it-all, Peter who insists on everyone who goes up and down the caravan steps paying tribute to 'Sharkey' and Johnny, cheerily oblivious to the tension around him. Even the desperately unravelling Isabel is beautifully caught. As before, some of the dialogue and characters still feel eerily relevant. Still, there are other moments which prove that the past truly is another country where things are done differently.

With the greater emphasis on personal rather than parental relationships, this is perhaps why Uncle Paul failed to resonate with me quite so much as The Hours Before Dawn. The tension was still sky high, particularly during the isolation at the cottage, and I still found the book difficult to put down at bedtime. However, the ultimate denouement lacked the same electricity. Perhaps this is unsurprising - I identified strongly with the first novel's sleep-deprived protagonist and never felt the same sense of kinship with any of the characters here. Uncle Paul delivered on spine-chilling thrills but does not feel like a novel destined to live long in the memory.

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I wish that I'd read about the writer before reading the book as lots of things fell into place after I realised it had been written in the 1950s. The plot is slow and over complicated in places but the characterisation is brilliant - the heroine is both funny and determined but also an irritating know-it-all. Some of the characters' characteristics are exaggerated and obviously of their era but sharp observations and small details make them also more rounded and interesting than we get in most modern books more snappy prose.

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The average idea about mysteries written during the golden age is that they were all sort of Agatha-Christie-like, country houses and parties.
There's a lot of novel featuring a country house but there's a variety of situation and type of mystery or thriller.
This a thriller, it's witty and light but there's also a sense of dread and it kept me on the edge till the end.
Celia Fremlin was a new to me author and I appreciated the tense and tightly knitted plot and the well developed characters
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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What a strangely whimsical title for what is quite a taut thriller! Certainly, Uncle Paul is very much the central (if unseen) character, whose presence is felt in virtually every scene but it is really not about him at all...

This is the type of novel I love but which is very rarely seen in modern fiction: a genuine crime thriller that is infused with wit and also has frequent points of observational comedy. The most similar novels I can think of are the work of George Bellairs (another crime writer from this era of whom I am very fond), but 'Uncle Paul' comes with greater authenticity (and considerably less slapstick…)

This novel is really a character study and consideration of class, feminism and social norms of the transition from 1950s to 1960s Britain, given even more poignance as it was written in the 1959, rather than simply being a novel set in that time by a modern author. Yet, it is a genuine thriller with enough misdirection and red herrings and genuine moments of threat and tension to keep lovers of mid-century thrillers very happy indeed.

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I absolutely love this author and I'm so pleased to see this reissue. A perfect combination of plot, character and suspense with a good dose of humour too. Highly recommended.

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Meg and Isabel were just girls when ‘Uncle Paul’ married their older half sister, Mildred.
He soon disappeared from their lives, when he was exposed as a bigamist and murderer and imprisoned.
Fifteen years later ‘Uncle Paul’ is about to be released and all three sisters are dreading the prospect.
The family holiday at the seaside village where Mildred and Paul once honeymooned becomes the setting for a tense drama, full of suspicion, betrayal and revenge.
With a vintage postcard cover, it’s a re-issue from the 19050s - perfect for any fan of Patricia Highsmith or Daphne Du Maurier, Celia Fremlin is described as the grandmother of psycho domestic noir.
A slow burning chiller, full of witty observations, with a sense of time and space.
Well drawn lively characters and I loved how the author leaves little trails, you’re desperate for something to happen and it comes satisfyingly together.
Thanks #celiafremlin @faberbooks & @netgalley for the eARC

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I really loved this book! It was a slow, ominous build with lots of tension and character development, which meant I was totally blown away by the reveal. I love classic crime fiction like this that doesn't rely on forensics and gore, but excellent storytelling and tension build. I have been recommending this book to all my customers for their summer holidays.

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Celia Fremlin’s Uncle Paul is an engrossing, slow-burning psychological thriller that skilfully blends suspense, family dynamics and the infuriating complexities of human relationships. Originally published in 1959, its gripping narrative and insightful exploration of the psyche ensure that it remains surprising and impactful despite certain aspects of the story now appearing a tad dated.

The unflappable and almost pathologically competent Meg is summoned from London by a telegram from Isabel, her slightly older sister. Arriving at Southcliffe, the quintessential British seaside town where Isabel, her two sons and her new husband, when he can get away from the office anyway, are holidaying at a slightly run-down caravan park, Meg finds her sister in an even more harried state than normal.

However, to Meg’s surprise, Isabel doesn’t require help with her own mundanely taxing domestic troubles. Rather, she wants Meg to intervene in the latest drama involving their much older half-sister, the rich and highly vexing Mildred.

Mildred has recently left her second husband (again) and taken refuge in a rented cottage on the outskirts of Southcliffe. The issue, which immediately horrified Isabel but somehow entirely escaped Mildred, is that the cottage Mildred is renting is the same property in which she spent her honeymoon with her first husband, the eponymous Uncle Paul.

While it could be pure coincidence, Isabel is convinced that something far more sinister is afoot: Uncle Paul has spent the last 15 years in prison, having been convicted of bigamy and plotting to murder Mildred. The sisters haven’t kept track of Uncle Paul since his sentencing but it’s likely that he’s due to be released any time… and Mildred has let slip to Isabel that she heard footsteps prowling round the cottage at night.

Despite not considering her behaviour in renting the cottage to be in any way odd, Mildred is frightened. She’s convinced that it was Uncle Paul’s footsteps she heard and that he’s back to take revenge on her for turning him in to the police all those years ago. While initially disconcerted to hear of Mildred’s fears, Meg quickly decides that her sister is being overly dramatic once again.

Still, she can’t quite get the idea of Uncle Paul returning for vengeance out of her mind. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the caravan and wider resort add to the oppressive weight of memories from the past and, against her better judgement, Meg gets swept up in her sisters’ paranoia. Could Uncle Paul really be back?

Celia Fremlin’s masterful approach to building atmosphere and tension is the standout element of Uncle Paul. She slowly ramps up the tension, introducing slightly off-kilter characters and somewhat peculiar situations to disorientate Meg as she reluctantly starts to agree with Mildred and then is forced to continuously second-guess her assumptions as events progress.

The pacing of the story is perfect, with Meg’s apprehension consistently building and then repeatedly being dissipated as yet another plausible explanation appears for yet another seemingly implausible occurrence. As she at first unwilling considers the possibility of Uncle Paul’s return and later compulsively hunts for evidence that he is back, Meg falls ever deeper into the twisted psychological labyrinth that Fremlin has crafted for her.

Aside from Meg being an engaging and relatable protagonist, the other characters in Uncle Paul are also vividly depicted. Fremlin displays a sharp eye for detail and sometimes brutal characterisation in populating the caravan park and hotel in Southcliffe with an eclectic group of people who seem highly likely to be found in a 1950s British seaside resort, particularly one that is playing host to a mystery.

The exploration of family dynamics is another strength of Uncle Paul. Fremlin delves into the complexities of the relationships among the sisters and between them and their loved ones, exposing the underlying tensions and conflicts that often exist within families. The portrayal of the strained relations between Isabel and her new husband, as well as the uncertain bond between Meg and the Bertie Wooster-esque Freddy, add depth to the narrative and reinforce the notion that anyone could be harbouring secrets.

Given its original publication date and late 1950s setting, one minor drawback of Uncle Paul is that some aspects of the book feel a little dated, particularly the rather wordy dialogue and the sometimes troubling attitudes towards female characters. However, the wordiness doesn’t really detract from the story’s intrigue and the troubling attitudes are arguably period appropriate, perhaps adding to the authenticity of the characterisations.

In Uncle Paul, Fremlin—who has been dubbed ‘the grandmother of psycho-domestic noir’—showcases her exceptional ability to craft a truly gripping psychological thriller. With its suspenseful narrative, well-developed characters and thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche, it’s an undeservedly forgotten classic of the genre that is certainly worthy of rediscovery.

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I loved this quirky reissue of Uncle Paul and it was the perfect read for those who loved The Feast!
Set in a seaside town post WW2, three sisters become terrified of the return of 'Uncle Paul' after his prison release.
Fremin's domestic thriller takes the reader across the line of reality into a frightening breakdown where everyone is a suspect.
'A footstep, or a creaking bough? The swish of trouser legs through long grass, or merely the stirring of the great teasels, restless with growth under the midnight sky?'

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My first time reading Fremlin, and I loved it! She takes the reader to a typically British summer holiday at a seaside town and into the innermost thoughts of three sisters who are experiencing everyday anxieties while a sinister event looms from their past.

I enjoyed Fremlin's setting; the plot was absorbing; and I enjoyed her cast of characters who injected absurdities and humour alongside the darker elements.

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A lot of crime fiction is described as ‘Highsmithian’ but the comparison is rarely deserved. I was delighted to find out that Uncle Paul actually lives up to the hype. A creepy little summer read to send a shiver up your spine regardless of the weather outside.

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This was not at all what I expected it to be. It's more suspense than crime and it is also extremely well written. It's more about the mind than about the action and as a reader you have to let yourself gradually be absorbed by the main character's thoughts and fears. Once that happens, it's difficult to stop reading because you really need to understand what is going on. This is a character novel which is very enjoyable if you are willing to accept the fact that this is not traditional crime, more of an unexpected pleasant surprise.

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Magnificent & Sublime! More family dysfunctional & idiotic shenanigans you will not find in 2023. This delicious literary rediscovery involving three very different sisters going totally hysterical and utterly bonkers by the seaside in post WWII England kept me screaming for an entire afternoon! Creepy,disturbing and so British! The perfect Summer read! I just loved it!

Many thanks to F&F and Netgalley for this delicious treat! ❤👍

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I'd give this four stars, not five, but it's pretty damn good (I reserve five stars for my favourite books by an author, and/or their strongest works, and there's one *clanging* instance of bad dialogue in the villain's last speech). This one is the second novel by Fremlin, and it's slightly weaker than the best, but its intense and slightly Gothic relationship between three sisters fits well into the "cosy chiller" genre she made her own: books in which the heroine/protagonist may probably end up alive and well, but she's gone through a fair amount of stress and fear and risk of her own life that she could not have imagined at the start of the story.

Meg (like many Fremlin heroines) starts off cheerful and commonsensical almost to a fault. She's the youngest of three but *both* her older sisters are hapless and hopeless, Isabel is simply ineffective at handling her stern husband and two small boys, but Mildred seems resentful of a world that took away her husband, ("Uncle Paul", as he was known to the family) and imprisoned him for bigamy. But Uncle Paul might be coming out of prison--will anyone recognise him, and who's he coming back for?

There are a few misdirections, and plenty of tension (Fremlin has a nice line in interpersonal relationships, showing how families get on (or often don't), and it's fairly strong until the bathetic speech from the villain, telling Meg to "Die! Die! Whether he comes for love or for revenge, he comes to me--to me alone!" That's a rare misstep for Fremlin: she's usually acutely accurate in writing believable dialogue or behaviour even for characters that have slipped beyond normal bounds.

The book works well apart from that moment, assuredly going between the disturbance of the characters' minds and the sheer ordinariness of daily life. I think it works, and deals with both the ordinary seaside setting and the fears of the characters.

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I had never heard of Celia Fremlin. I'm delighted to have this reprint of Uncle Paul to introduce me to this hitherto unknown (to me) British crime writer.

I liked this book a lot. It has the feel of an Agatha Christie in its settings, with the darker touch of a Patricia Highsmith in its characters. It has a nice blend of domestic life (a hotel and caravan site during a seaside holiday) with an undercurrent of menace (in a creaky, scary old cottage).

The story revolves around Meg, Mildred and Isabel, who are dreading the possible return of 'Uncle Paul' - Mildred's former husband - following his released from prison after serving 15 years. One of the most notable characters is Johnny, a young boy holidaying in the hotel with his ineffectual mother: he is rather terrifying and from a 21st century perspective stands out as a potential psychopath (tones of Highsmith). His role in events is cleverly handled and one of the scenes involving him has been haunting me for days!

The writing is beautifully controlled, elegant and clean. It's wonderful when a forgotten author is revived like this and I'll be looking out for more of her works.

My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC.

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There is much to love in Uncle Paul, a reissued 1959 novel. First, it’s set in a coastal resort, and I love a seaside setting. Then it features three sisters, each with contrasting temperaments and situations. The protagonist is Meg, who is a young single woman in London, working and living independently in digs. She has just embarked on a new relationship with a musician who thinks he’s in a Noel Coward play. He’s witty and mysterious, alternately charming and cool, and she’s unsure what she means to him.

Her slightly older sister Isabel is embarking on a second marriage after being widowed with two young sons, trying to negotiate the challenges of integrating her new family. Their much older half-sister, Mildred, who effectively brought them up, is both independently wealthy and married to a rich man. She lives a life apparently free of constraint, but that doesn’t stop her creating drama at every turn.

Mildred has left her husband and rented a remote cottage near the caravan site where Isabel and her family are on holiday. The cottage just happens to be the one where she honeymooned with her first husband, subsequently imprisoned for attempted murder. Now she is convinced she hears footsteps and in the night and they are his. Isabel summons Meg to try and calm things down. It can’t really be the man the two younger sisters called Uncle Paul, can it?

The story cleverly explores the relationship of the three sisters. As the truth about Uncle Paul unfolds, the themes also resonate with the men in the three women’s lives. There is some wonderful observation and some lovely comedy, particularly in the comings and goings at the hotel in the town where Mildred decamps.

The writing is atmospheric, especially at the remote cottage, at times reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie. Meg walks there alone, in the dark. As well as footsteps, there is a half-open wardrobe, a deep dark well...They could be sinister, they could be totally innocuous and we are kept guessing.

The suspense element is heavy on exposition – telling us what we should be scared of and exactly what Meg is thinking at every turn. The resolution of the mystery also feels unconvincing. Still, it’s probably unfair to judge Fremlin as a contemporary reader. She was one of the pioneers of the domestic thriller. To us it’s a well-trodden path, but she was guiding her readers through unfamiliar territory.

Overall, Uncle Paul is well worth a read. It’s an insight into the history of the genre as well as being a great exploration of family dynamics and an interesting slice of social history.
I received a copy of Uncle Paul from the publisher via NetGalley.

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Uncle Paul is a masterclass in slow building tension.
In a 1950s English seaside town, three sisters gather for an ill-fated holiday.
Meg, Isabel and Mildred will learn one lesson that Summer: you can never run away from your past. It is coming one way or another.
Hailed as the queen of Domestic Noir, Celia Fremlin immerses us right in the action thanks to her skilful descriptions of interiors. I never read anyone who could evoke so perfectly the claustrophobic feeling of a cramped caravan holiday.
She’s equally impressive when it comes to the psychology of her characters, there’s no averting your eyes away when you’re right in the head of the paranoid sisters.
While nothing tangible happens during most of the novel, I felt totally immersed in this seaside town with its cast of compelling characters. I pretty much rushed to the end where I let out an audible gasp.
This one is for fans of The Feast by Margaret Kennedy, Philomel Cottage by Agatha Christie and A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor.
Thank you Faber for introducing me to Celia Fremlin, what a thrill to know that there are more of her books out there to be discovered.

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Uncle Paul is a 1950’s suspense novel about a horrible summer holiday, suffered by three sisters. Isabel is struggling in a seaside caravan with two small boys and (intermittently) a rather strict new husband. Mildred is staying in a nearby clifftop cottage where she honeymooned years ago with her first husband Paul and is not enjoying the eerie atmosphere and lack of creature comforts. Their capable younger sister Meg is summoned from London by telegram to resolve all their problems and manage things, but is there more to the situation than meets the eye? Is Mildred just being silly or is there a real sinister threat hanging over the holiday?

There’s a good cast of supporting characters in this book - I particularly liked Cedric, the annoying know-it-all child who kept contradicting the adult characters. There are plenty of laughs along with a suspenseful plot.

A fun book for those who like Golden Age crime fiction and similar novels.

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