Sunday, June 17, 2007

Appointment With Yesterday - Celia Fremlin

First published 1972; cover shown is the 1991 Gollancz Crime (UK) paperback edition. Cover art by Robert Heesom. 192 pages.

Middle aged Milly Barnes sits in a train on the Inner Circle, at four o'clock in the afternoon. "Milly" was born earlier that morning, after her previous self had run, terrified, down a dark London street. Now, having decided on a name change, Milly is heading as far away from London as her few coins can take her.

Arriving in Seacliffe late at night, an exhausted Milly sleeps in a shelter built near the beach. Realising her body has miraculously carried her through the freezing, wet night, she feels a new sense of optimism. Within the space of a day she has found a job as a house cleaner, and has successfully lied her way into a room in a boarding house.

Soon, Milly has built a new life for herself. Her cleaning skills are sought after by housewives around the small town, and she is befriended by Jacko and Kevin, two university students living in the boarding house. Milly's daily checking of the headlines in the London papers lessens as she starts to feel safe... but Milly made a few glaring mistakes during her panicked flight all those weeks ago, and the past will chase her down sooner than she realises.

The crime Milly committed that was so terrible she had to run far, far away and change her identity, is soon revealed to be not so terrible after all. While describing Appointment With Death as a "terror" novel is stretching it, the life imposed on Milly by her second husband becomes steadily more frightening as the flashbacks scattered throughout the book reach their crescendo, and the truth behind Milly's fear is revealed.

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