The Hour Before Dawn is the story of two generations which is told in the details of traumatic events in 1976 and the present day. Unusually there are two heroines in this novel, Fleur Montrose and her estranged daughter Nikki. The two women have been torn apart by a mysterious tragedy in Malaysia when Nikki was 5, as well as the early loss of Fleur’s husband, Nikki’s father David.
The story also goes back to 1966 when 15 year old, Fleur met army officer, David in Singapore. For me, having lived in Singapore at this time, this part of the tale didn’t ring true, but later scenes, particularly of Malaysia, reminded me of the sights and smells and the contrast between busy towns and the peace of the beach houses at Port Dickson.
Fleur’s flawed relationship, both with her mother and her daughter seem to stem from her selfish, single-minded behaviour but later it becomes evident that she has concealed a troubling secret to protect her family. In addition they have to cope with the mysterious disappearance of Nikki’s twin sister Saffie in 1976 and Fleur’s remarriage after her first husband’s death.
Now a widow once more and writing a dissertation as a mature student, Fleur sets out for New Zealand on a trail of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s architecture. She intends to stay with her daughter Nikki, who is expecting a baby with partner Jack. But Fleur does not turn up. She has disappeared while stopping over at Singapore. Reluctantly Nikki and Jack set out to look for Fleur. In Singapore they meet Inspector Mockter who discovers that Fleur has taken a train and bus to Port Dickson in Malaysia, the place where Saffie was last seen.
In the course of the story we eventually come to understand what happened to Saffie and why Fleur behaved oddly. Inspector Mockter has a special rapport with Nikki which helps her to cope with an impossible situation, while heavily pregnant.
Sara MacDonald is a talented writer. She deals with complex family relationships and their breakdown very effectively. There is a strong sense of place in Port Dickson and the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. There are a few editing issues, especially with the spelling of places in Singapore but I am just being picky since they don’t affect the content of a tremendous story of loss and hope.