Matthew Hopkins is a name I came across a long time ago and even though his self appointed reign of terror made me shudder, Beth Underdown’s debut The Witchfinder’s Sister makes it real and makes you feel as if you’re there … I’m sharing my thoughts today as part of the blog tour organised by Penguin Random House.
The Witchfinder’s Sister published 2 March in digital, hardcover and audio formats.
‘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?
Narrated by sister Alice who is writing the history of Matthew from a chamber, we’re taken back to her journey to Manningtree when things are only just beginning. Alice is our hook into what takes place. Not only is it through her we witness events but her own personal story gives added depth and means it is easy to be emotionally invested in her. There are also scenes with one of the accused that changes things from something distant and remote (names in a ledger) into something that lodges in your heart and makes you feel.
As you’re reading you can feel the weight of the oppression, the fear and the uncertainty. The isolation at the Thorn and even attending church there is a sense of doom, that something awful is going to happen. These feelings tie in with what is happening around them politically and religiously. It really felt as if I was there! I have ancestors who were in the Suffolk parishes at around this time and The Witchfinder’s Sister really hit home for me that they would have been living under the same fears and conditions. This was real …
I always enjoy stories that blend fact and fiction. I think it’s the curiosity about the facts mixed with the creativity, allowing events to be fleshed out in the author’s own particular style, that draws me in. Beth Underdown has skilfully woven them together in The Witchfinder’s Sister to create a dark, heavy and hard hitting story which brings to life the fear and pain that Matthew Hopkins caused.
Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.
The Witchfinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins.
She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.
Connect with Beth Underdown
Don’t forget to check out the other hosts on tour.