Publisher: Viking Books UK
Publication date: 2nd March 2017
Fascinating and unsettling, the essence of menace and misplaced belief spirals out of control in The Witchfinder’s Sister.
It’s a certainty that dark forces were at work in 17th Century Manningtree, Essex but exactly what they were is open for debate as the basis and convenience of how someone could be accused of practicing witchcraft was astounding: “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furred brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice …” (It’s frightening to think this applies to most of my street.)
As I read Alice’s considerate and perceptive account of the time she returned to her family home in Manningtree to find her brother’s motives askew, I could scarcely believe how her old acquaintances could give evidence against another after simply taking offence. Being aware of how degrading and horrific the punishment would be for those suffering a lapse of judgement in a moment of anger, passion, or indeed not being of sound mind, was ignorant or vengeful. Yet Alice’s own morals skirt dangerously close to the townsfolk’s basis for judgement when someone she resents is on trial. There are some interesting moments where she understands how scores could be settled if the truth is ignored.
While some revel in another’s misery it becomes clear that these women did not deserve the finger of suspicion pointed at them. As a result of their alleged crime they were not treated leniently by the witchfinder, Alice’s brother, Matthew Hopkins. Seeing how he gathered the necessary evidence, which to us in the 21st Century would sound preposterous, it made me consider why a man as intelligent as Matthew would choose to pursue this way of life.
In contrast to his sister, Matthew appears devoid of emotion. As he enters their names into an ominous ledger he finds it’s easy to encourage a confession under circumstances where anyone could be convinced they were possessed by the devil simply to end the ruthless ordeal they were being subjected to.
Surprised to receive such an icy reception after their closeness as children, Alice learns to be mindful of her thoughts more than she ever did before she found herself in a precarious position; upon inheriting nothing more than her stepmother’s old clothing, and without a husband or means of supporting herself. After enduring many trials and indignities, one by one old skeletons step out of the cupboard for Alice’s closer inspection. As matters escalated I could sense a wary composure radiating from her when carrying out her duties with a rare compassion, and I was willing her to find Matthew’s “Achilles Heel” to prevent his twisted obsession from gaining strength.
Alice’s story has a marked refinement where her pauses for thought are placed at perfect intervals during the narration for maximum impact. These expressive brush stokes paint a picture so distorted and monstrous that it won’t fail to conjure The Witchfinder’s Sister in the flesh, effortlessly and defiantly reciting from her text for all to hear.
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
‘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 has no choice but to return 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 witches, and of a great book, in which her brother is gathering women’s names.
To what lengths will her brother’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
(Courtesy of Amazon UK. Author photograph courtesy of publisher.)
Beth Underdown lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Her first novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister, is based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins. Beth’s interest in seventeenth-century England was sparked by the work of her great-uncle David Underdown, one of that period’s foremost historians. She came across a brief mention of Matthew Hopkins while reading a book about midwifery, igniting an interest which turned into an all-consuming hunt for the elusive truth about this infamous killer.
Be sure to check out the other stops on this immense tour for The Witchfinder’s Sister! 😀