This book provides us with a prime example of what gossip and suggestion can do to the human psyche. Katharine lives a life that could never be called tranquil! She constantly juggles her three girls, her irritable husband and her home. Not always with excellent results... Next-door lives Katherine's neighbour, Mary, of whom she is extremely fond. Yet she is pleased to see that Mary copes even less well than herself. It is on this very unstable foundation that they build their relationship.
Then there is an incident in Mary's home when a stranger in a raincoat stabs her husband, Alan. Later, Mary confesses to Katharine that it was she who accidentally stabbed her husband and not the imaginary man in the raincoat. Under Katharine's advice Mary goes along with Alan's story and pretends, for the sake of Mary's marriage, that it actually was this imaginary figure.
The tension rises and with each passing day Mary begins to believe that she is being followed. Her conviction grows that the imaginary man is keeping a watch on her house and that her family are in danger.
Mixed in with this creepy story Celia Fremlin lets us peep in to how houses were run in those days. We see that wives were expected to keep the house clean for their husbands and that they were expected to provide meals on a tight budget by putting onions in the mince to make it stretch to five mouths.
All the ladies in the neighbourhood, including Mary and Katharine sit around berating their unfeeling, lazy husbands. There is even a dinner party held by another friend, Stella, who comes across as such a domestic goddess that she belittles Katharine. However, near the end of the novel, there is a touching moment between Katharine and her husband, which could lead to a more harmonious family household.
As usual, the tension mounts slowly and this is a much better display of Fremlin's talents as she gradually layers on the atmosphere of suspense and intrigue – leading to a dazzling and cathartic denouement. It also shows us that we never really know our neighbours, guessing at what goes on behind their drawn curtains. It suggests that the victim is not always the most obvious character. The Trouble Makers flows more easily than some of Celia Fremlin's other novels and I believe this is one of her best.