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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 15 February 2006
I bought this book after having read a review in a magazine and thought it would be a suitable holiday read. I began reading on a flight to Australia and was completely gripped by the story from the very first page, which is unusual on a long flight as usually I find it difficult to concentrate. I could not put the book down until it was finished and found it not only an enjoyable read, but thought provoking. The characters are all very believable, it is a tale of family with plenty of suspense and drama and the different locations, which cover London, Singapore, Malaysia and the Bay of Islands in NZ are well painted and recognisable. Once I had finished the book, my daughter read it and was also unable to put it down, she is not a great reader, but enjoyed it immensely. I can't wait to read more of Sara MacDonald's books.
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on 8 July 2007
Sarah MacDonalds book evoked poignant memories for me....
Having lived as an Army wife in Singapore in the 1960's I was immediately transported back there - the sights, smells, her descriptions of the area, everything. Loved it, loved it!!!
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on 16 March 2015
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 1966 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.
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VINE VOICEon 17 August 2009
Desperately sad. This is unlike Sara MacDonald's previous novels which are, in my opinion, magnificent pieces of creativity. This is no less creative. She explores loss through a mother and her fragile relationship with her own mother, and her fraught relations with her remaining daaughter, Nikki, the twin of the missing Saffie. Nikki's emotional landscape is confused, empty and drained one minute, overflowing with pain and longing the next. Mental rollercoasters run throughout this novel but never in a messy, cloying way. The exploratory is done beautifully, with flashbacks of a charmed life left in pieces and then the attempts to gather up those pieces and make some sense of them. Mockter, the detective, is vital to this - his rapport with Nikki so poignant. An amazing novel; the denouement will blow you away.
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on 23 September 2008
This is a beautiful story, masterfully told. The plot and the way it is presented is exceptionally good. The characters are well drawn and believable, drawing the reader into events both past and present with a fascination to know the truth about what happened to Saffie and why.
Sara MacDonald's books follow a theme of switching from past events to present developments, and in this story she has as many as four different threads of the plot being followed at the same time. It works really well though, and does not confuse in any way, but instead it adds dimension and hooks the reader's interest.
This is a haunting tale which delves deeply into the mind and emotions, with a spiritual angle which to me felt totally natural and added depth and meaning to the story. The ending I found totally satisfactory and believable.
I'm so glad I decided to read another of her books, having loved Another Life and then been disappointed with Sea Music, which I found depressing and predictable. Her stories can get a bit heavy at times, but this one finds a good balance and is compulsive reading. The setting has obviously been well researched, and I loved the little touches such as the connection to the work of Hundertwasser, the Austrain painter and architect. For me,these little things are what turn a good author into a great one.
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on 22 June 2014
The best thing about this book is the story. It gets more interesting as you get further into the book. The return to previous times, I felt worked well but the flitting from 'first-person, past tense' to 'third-person, past tense' didn't quite work for me. I know it was just Nikki doing the 'first-person', as though she was the narrator, only she wasn't, and it kept switching so that you weren't quite sure who was speaking and who was telling the story. Not a brilliantly descriptive book, but the story is good and the emotion was quite well handled. Till about two-thirds of the way through I was giving this book 3 stars, but the story turned more interesting towards the end, so I felt for story alone, it deserved 4 stars.
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on 30 May 2016
Loved this book, want to read more Sara MacDonald.
I would recommend this book for holiday reading! One of those books you just do not want to put down.
The characters are lovely and you really get to know them.
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on 19 June 2016
Excellent book. One of those books you can't wait to sit down and read a little more.

I love the descriptive details that Sara adds to her books. You feel as if you have been transported to Singapore!
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on 20 June 2008
As the previous review, I found it hard to put down. The author has a way to transport the reader to the heart of the story.
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on 6 March 2016
I really enjoyed this book, and like others have said, couldn't put it down once I had started. A clever, well written, story where the truth is gradually revealed as we go backwards and forwards between the past and the present. I would read anything by Sara Macdonald. Sea Music was exceptional too.
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