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Friday, 17 March 2017

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder’s Sister

I was very intrigued to receive a review copy of this book, especially as the PR people had included a couple of little extras in the package – a chilling letter and a nosegay of dried flowers to help ward off evil. Happily, I was equally intrigued when I began to read it.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is based on the true story of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, and told from the point of view of his half sister Alice. Alice travels back to her brother’s house in Manningtree following the death of her husband Joseph. But what she doesn’t know is that while she’s been away Matthew has been concerning himself with the tracking down and bringing to justice of supposed witches.

Having studied the witch trials as part of my degree many years ago, I found Beth Underdown’s telling of the story very authentic. Without letting the research hang heavily on the story, she has captured really vividly the way that witch crazes worked: the suspicion; the settling of old scores; the accusing of others to save yourself. This all rang very true.

The fictional Alice was an inspired choice as narrator of the story. Against her will she gets sucked in to Matthew’s activities and it is painful to read as she grapples with her conscience and innate desire to be good, whilst having no choice but to obey the brother whose protection she sought after becoming a widow.

Because the story is based on fact, some of the outcomes are already known, but the story is structured in such a way that it keeps the reader guessing. There are twists and turns in the journey towards Alice and Matthew’s final fates, and an unveiling of back story, that both keep the reader in suspense. There’s also a real heart stopper of a surprise moment at the end.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the time, and in the unfolding of the witch hunts. It also has a lot of insights that apply to modern times. The notions of othering and blame, and picking on the vulnerable, are still present today and reading this book provides a chilling insight into where that can lead. Beyond all that, it’s also a cracking story.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

And you can find more stops on the blog tour here.