The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

One of my favourite historical fiction books ever is The Witchfinders Sister, Beth Underdown’s STUNNING debut. When she announced on Twitter that proofs were being printed for her new novel, I was dizzy with excitement, I kid you not.

I’ve been lurking on Beths socials for a number of years, liking, commenting and generally making my presence known. So thank you Beth for putting up with my harping on about how keyed up I was (see what I did there 😉) to read your second novel, The Key in the Lock.

To my utter astonishment, (and maybe to shut me up!!) Beth kindly sent me a beautiful dedicated proof, so I instantly cast aside my TBR plan for the month, and dived straight in.

‘I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace’.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the great house, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.

I’d imagine it’s very nerve-racking for authors when sending their second book out into the ‘bloggers wild’, as it were. Particularly when a debut has had such excellent reviews and feedback. A hard act to follow, perhaps? Take it from me Beth, you’ve nothing to be worried about, The Key in the Lock is brilliant.

What struck me the most about this story was how much effort had gone into the research. It is meticulously written down to the very last minute detail. So much thought is put into Beths novels, this is something I noticed when reading The Witchfinders Sister, this one has that very same precision.

From the creative descriptions to the most authentic characters, from the intricacies of plot detail, to the slow burning reveals, The Key in the Lock is top quality historical fiction.

I absolutely adored the secretive, atmospheric story-line. I often find if plots are gentle in motion, if the writing style isn’t quite ‘up to it’, I become a little bored when revelations take their time to unfold. But not here, I found it so immersive, the gothic feels, dark tension, cleverly haunting reveals, and characters so vivid in my mind, it made for some breathtaking reading.

I can count on one hand authors whose books are an auto-buy for me. Beth has been one of those authors since reading her debut in 2017. She sits comfortably alongside Sarah Waters where I don’t even have to read the synopsis, I already know I’m going to love it, it’s a given.

Thank you so much Beth for sending me a signed copy, it’s a treasure on my forever historical fiction shelf.

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The Key in the Lock is released in January 2022 from Viking books

Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy

An immortelle is a long-lasting flower arrangement placed on graves in cemeteries. They were originally made from natural dried flowers or could be made from artificial materials such as china and painted plaster of paris or beads strung on wire arrangements. Unless made of a highly durable material (e.g. china), they would often be enclosed in a glass container (known as globes) to protect them from the weather.

[Source :Wikipedia]

Elinor’s daughter, Rowena, is found poisoned and dead in an animal trough, Elinor is certain the local priest is to blame. Influenced by her late grandmother’s interest in supernatural magic, Elinor crafts an Immortelle for Rowena’s grave in an attempt to capture her daughters spirit.

I’m not telling you anything else about the story. I read very little about it before starting (other than to find out what an ‘Immortelle’ is) and I think this is the best way to read.

Witchcraft, the natural world, mother/daughter relationships, (a firm favourite of mine) gothic tones, alchemy, love, hope, grief, the supernatural, spirituality, revenge, good/evil, it’s all in here. For a 95 page novella, it’s full to the brim of everything I look for in gentle, quiet horror.

We weren’t quite in September when I started, but on reading the first three chapters, I knew I’d made the right choice to kick off my “Spooky Season” reads.

My favourite time of year by far, Autumn is THE time for enjoying books that chill, thrill and creep into my mind. Horror doesn’t have to be all blood and guts and carnage. Horror can be subtle, hidden in the shadows, full of atmosphere and tension, characters created with careful consideration so the story instantly comes to life, an easy invitation to become entranced. Catherine’s novella has all this, and so much more.

Her story telling is mesmerising. It feels as though it’s made of the most sublime ingredients. She has a way with words, a way with pace and timing. Immortelle ticked every box. It is an astonishingly beautiful story. I had many moments with it where I had to stop and think and appreciate.

If you enjoy calm, wistful horror with touches of darkness, I highly recommend Catherine’s writing.

‘I press on, guided by the rhythmic lap of the sea, her breath a sizzle as it caresses the shore and a gasp as she sucks a mouthful back. The slow rhythm steadies my breathing, and the distant beam from the lighthouse, which seems to flash in time with the waves, illuminates the scene in a sweeping arc’.