The Key In The Lock by Beth Underdown 

Anyone who has followed me via my blog or social media over the years may already be aware that several of my all-time favourite novels are works of historical fiction. And I have often joked about how I have the appearance of a troubled Victorian maid, owing to my fair skin and my desire to buy gothic Victoriana style clothes with lace collars and dramatic sleeves (see aforementioned social media accounts) so when I first heard about Beth Underdown’s forthcoming new novel, The Key in the Lock, a historical thriller which is out next month, I was very excited to read it! 

One of the things I love to see in historical fiction, something which always draws me into a story is the prospect of long hidden secrets, particularly those centered around a grand, lavish home steeped in history. I am always intrigued by the prospect of unravelling decades of long held secrets, uncovering the family dynamics that have evolved through the generations of family and staff who live there. And in this respect The Key in the Lock does not disappoint, and there is a feeling of tension and uncertainty throughout, as we begin to piece together the truth relating to tragic events that take place decades apart. The story alternates between two timelines. In the first, beginning in 1918, we are introduced to Ivy Boscawen, a woman who is preparing to spend her first Christmas without her son, Tim, who died in the Great War. But not only is she struggling to come to terms with the tragic loss of her son in circumstances that remain unclear, she is further haunted by the death of another boy some 30 years previously- a boy who died in a fire at Polneath, where Ivy worked as a young woman. Each night she dreams of the house being engulfed by flames, mourning the loss of young William Tremain, as she struggles to process these feelings of guilt and grief she feels at his untimely demise. As the novel progresses, we switch back and forth between 1918 and 1888, as Ivy looks back at the tragic events of the past, in order for her future to be one in which she can be free. 

It didn’t take me long to become immersed in this story and the gothic atmosphere that Underdown has created which had my interest piqued from the start. The alternating timelines worked well in building up the layers of the characters and their stories through the years as we begin to piece together events and get to the truth of what really happened with those tragic events that took place decades ago. The story was well paced with a few twists and turns along the way, and I was kept glued to the pages by the prospect of further long buried secrets rising to the surface, as well as its exploration of grief, and the way it deals with the loss of these two boys, and the impact that had on those they left behind. This feeling of loss and tragedy is something that is explored throughout the novel which makes for an emotionally engaging read as we get to the heart on the characters, along with the intrigue that ensues when we establish that not everything is as it seems, and there is more to events then we may have realised… 

The Key In The Lock is a wonderfully written and atmospheric historical mystery which I really enjoyed and which I am sure will appeal to fellow historical fiction fans with its blend of fascinating characters and the secrets that are kept, and unravelled. It is to be published by Penguin Viking on 13th January 2022, with thanks to the publisher for providing a proof copy for review.

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