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

Dark Matter [A Ghost Story] by Michelle Paver

‘In one of my periodicals, there’s a paper by someone who’s worked out that what we know of the universe is only a tiny percentage of what actually exists. He says what’s left can’t be seen or detected, but it’s there; he calls it dark matter‘.


London, 1937. Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway and at last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one his companions are forced to leave. Soon Jack will see the last of the sun, the sea will freeze and escape will be impossible.

And Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…


Loaded with tension and atmosphere, Dark Matter is my idea of the perfect ghost story. I could of easily read it in one sitting, I was gripped from the very start.

The writing was at a gentle pace, methodical, magical, terrifying. I was transfixed. In the first hundred pages not a lot had actually happened, but that didn’t matter to me in the slightest. The feelings of isolation and suspense traveled up through my fingers with the turn of each page, cold yet clammy because I was there, with Jack.

The relationships between the characters were bold and often amusing, their personalities deep, emotional, with subtle hints of their own darkness and fears.

Jacks relationship with Isaak, one of the eight Huskies who accompanied them on the expedition, developed into something really very heartwarming.

This is the first book I’ve read by Paver, but it definitely won’t be my last. Horror and the Paranormal is one of my go-to genres, so I’ve read a LOT of spooky reads. But this, by far, was of a higher quality, superior to most I’ve read before.

A five star rating is deserved.


The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett

The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The People at Number 9 is a slow-burning, character-driven story about the dynamics of friendship. Sara and Neil have new neighbours move in next door and over a period of time, they become very close to the quirky Lou and Gav.

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Sara’s outlook on life is being subtly manipulated by this new friendship. The two couples’ children become close, and it slowly evolves into something Sara thought was for the greater good.

Lou is an up and coming screenwriter and Gav is a sculptor, they have hardly any house rules and seem to have the perfect marriage. Their lifestyle is carefree and fun, and soon Sara and Neil spend every spare moment with them, making their own lives a little less mundane and regimental.

This was an unusual read for me, I was up and down with it like a yo-yo. What I thought was going to be a slightly dark, twisty character study, actually turned out to be an extremely slow moving, intense look at how people interact with one another. It was ultimately about how changing attitudes and decisions can have an adverse impact on life, family and future.

If you’re looking for a story with lots of psychological thrills and plot twists, choose something else. However, if you enjoy reading about how relationships stand the test of time, and don’t mind feeling uncomfortably up close and personal with the protagonists, I’d recommend this.

I found at times, I was wondering if anything was ever going to happen. Did this even have a plot?! At half way through, I was contemplating calling it a day, but something was driving me on. When I got to around 70%, and still nothing in particular was going on, it dawned on me that this wasn’t the kind of book I thought it would be. What I did realise though was that I was so intrigued by the two couples relationships, I absolutely needed a conclusion.

Felicity Everett’s writing was a bit hit and miss. It was easy to read with a slow but steady flow, but occasionally I felt that the use of flowery language didn’t belong. I would be in mid-sentence and then some obscure word would be thrown in purely to try and impress the reader. Instead of adding a bit of intellect, it stuck out like a sore thumb, screaming ‘here’s a good word for you, I’m such a wordy author’. For example, when the word ‘nascent’ cropped up, I’d not heard of it and looked it up in the dictionary. When it appeared again a few chapters later, I rolled my eyes I’m afraid. Some stories suit a bit of arty-farty language, it didn’t do this one any favours.

And while I’m on the subject of the writing style, some of the descriptions made me cringe! I’m not squeamish by a long chalk, but up close and personal it definitely was.

‘….relishing the ripe, mushroom-y scent of him’.

‘….with her husband’s semen coagulating on her inner thigh..’

Urgh! No! Too much, too much! If my other half had a ripe, mushroom-y scent, I’d be suggesting a bath, or a trip to the doctor. And I really don’t want to think about coagulation of bodily fluids thanks.

Aside from my gripes, The People at Number 9 was different and I was surprised, intrigued, and irritated by it’s style. I was glad I kept at it as the conclusion was satisfying. What kept me going was the tiniest hint all the way through that some serious shit was going to hit the fan. It just took an eternity to get to there.

This story wasn’t about getting to the conclusion, it was about the journey. I can see Everetts vision with this, and she did a good job at keeping me ticking over. This book is for patient readers who don’t mind waiting for something to happen. It simmers with very little mystery, but for me, there was something that hooked me, but I’ve no idea what.

I’d like to thank the publisher, HQ, the author, Felicity Everett and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

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