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Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown


'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 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

Publication Date 2nd March 2017

Amazon UK - buy online and support your local bookstore


As an Essex girl, born and bred, I'm always intrigued to read books set in the county so that got me interest in reading the blurb of this, along with the fact that it is loosely based on the real life character of  Matthew Hopkins 'The Witchfinder General' who is famous for his role in the killing of women in the 17th century around the region of Manningtree, who were thought to be witches. The fact that the evidence against those women - rumoured to be about 300 women in just under 3 years that were killed - was based mostly on rumours amongst villagers or even the fact that woman had a birthmark or mole - evidence enough for the witchfinders to condemn the women to hang.

In this book we follow the story of Alice, his sister, who in 1645 moved back to Manningtree to see her brother after the death of her husband. Her brother had always been strange and seen as different from a child, as he was badly burned in a fire as a child, but when Alice returns she notices a much darker side to his personality and learns of his life now as a witch finder and that he is killing women, but legally!.

Alice as a character in herself, is also an extremely interesting woman as she has dealt with much trauma in her life and her attempts to keep her brother from his quest is a brave one but a reckless one. He takes her out on his witch hunts to help with the 'interrogation' and it is quite harrowing to read of what he makes her do, and what the women under suspicion have to endure. She also begins to learn more of her recently deceased mother, and her father too which adds more depth to the story and shines some light on their troubled childhoods.

I really loved the pace of this book - it is a little slow at times, but that really helps the characters build and gives you a great insight to life at the time and in the surrounding areas which are wonderfully brought to life as his quest to hunt out more witches picks up pace. It never goes over the top and deals with subject matter in a calm and understated way.

It is fascinating to take a person from history and create a story around someone who there isn't much known about his persona or personal life, and I think it works so well in this book to create an imagined storyline - it cleverly feels very real as the story picks up pace towards the end and I am now also inspired to read more about the Witch Trials and how this sad period of history was allowed to gather such pace.

A fascinating and well written debut and I look forward to reading more from the author in the future!  I will definitely be buying a copy of the beautiful hardback version to have on my bookshelves!

I received a copy of this via NetGalley and the publishers in return for a fair and honest review

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