April 25, 2017
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'VIVID AND TERRIFYING' Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...
1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.
But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.
To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
'A richly told and utterly compelling tale, with shades of Hilary Mantel' Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat
'Anyone who liked Cecilia Ekback's Wolf Winter is going to love this' Natasha Pulley, author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
'Beth Underdown grips us from the outset and won't let go...at once a feminist parable and an old-fashioned, check-twice-under-the-bed thriller' Patrick Gale, author of Notes from an Exhibition
'A tense, surprising and elegantly-crafted novel' Ian McGuire, author of The North Water
'Beth Underdown cleverly creates a compelling atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia... Even from the distance of nearly four hundred years, her Matthew Hopkins is a genuinely frightening monster' Kate Riordan
The Witchfinder's Sister is different than other novels about witch hunts or witch trials from the very beginning: rather than being about the accused or the accuser, it's character is the sister of the man to whom people take all of those accusations. It offers a different perspective than other books I have read focused on similar events and also allows readers and outside view of those who are accused or making the accusations. It's at once both more objective and that much more personal.
We see how Alice and Matthew's relationship was when they were children - how they were with each other, how other's treated him - and know that relationship is now very strained, without at first having a the full reason why. Knowing both how they were and how they are let's us infer more about both of them while also adding an element of uncertainty, maybe even danger, to Alice's tale.
This novel does an excellent job portraying of what little concern women - especially those who were not your mother or your wife - were to men at the time. Through the different accusations made against women, most especially when we learn what they're for and the circumstances around which they came to be - as well as how people react, what they'll believe, if they care even if they don't, etc we really get the bigger picture, too.
You can understand much more, after reading The Witchfinder's Sister, how so many women came to be accused of witchcraft, why other women were often their accusers and how things could spread so quickly. Having Matthew at the center of things, and viewed through his sister Alice, suggests some possible reasons (historically accurate or not) why someone would help fan these fears and doubts. You can see why people didn't try to calm things, why there was the hysteria.
I would not have assumed this was Beth Underdown's debut novel; it is well researched with fantastic characters. The characters and the historical setting work together to give us a tale both fitting within the period but with great modern day relevance. I am very much looking forward to more from this author.
digital review copy received from publisher, via NetGalley