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 that 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.

Brimming with secrets, this lyrical haunting historical thriller is perfect for fans of Elizabeth Macneal, Sarah Waters and Diane Setterfield.

My Review

The Key in the Lock is set in two time frames – the first in 1888, the year of the fire at Polneath when seven-year-old William died, and the second in 1918 when Ivy is mourning the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. How did Tim die and why is she unable to discover the truth? The telegram simply says: KILLED rather than KILLED IN ACTION or DIED OF HIS WOUNDS. What is the significance, if any?

In 1888, there was a fire at the Great House, the home of Edward Tremain and his drunken bully of a father. Edward’s wife had died earlier and Edward was left to care for his son William. But it was poor William who died that night, hiding under the bed, in the room of housemaid Agnes. But what was he doing there? And who set the fire?

Both time periods are written from Ivy’s first person point of view, but because we hear from her as a mature woman of almost 50 years old in 1918, I found her very naive in 1888, and often forgot how young she was – only 18 or 19. She is easily led by others less scrupulous.

However, the book is beautifully written, in lyrical prose, and I know some will find it rather old-fashioned in the manner of books such as The Turn of the Screw and similar prose from a bygone age and be impatient to move on with the action. There is often far too much detail for ‘modern’ readers. I have to admit I am one of them but I still enjoyed it immensely, though it was rather slow at times. A lovely book.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale. Before becoming an author, she worked as a waitress, a cookbook editorial assistant and for an exam board. She began writing her first novel while studying Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, where she is now a lecturer. In her spare time, Beth enjoys hiking and cake; her comfort reads are Wolf Hall and the ghost stories of MR James. She can be found on Twitter @bethunderdown and Instagram @bethunderdown – go and say hi!

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