Beth Underdown’s darkly resonant novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister, explores another time and another place to lay bare the visceral horror of what a witch hunt truly is ... If Alice’s way of thinking sometimes threatens to dilute the authenticity of her historical world, it also serves as a bridge to our own. She (and we) can identify the malignant, miasmic forces at work — the ways in which, in a society under stress, fear becomes contagious and collective when projected outward onto the powerless 'other' — even as she is drawn into a horrifying complicity with the spreading violence over which her brother presides ... Beth Underdown knows her history, but in this ominous, claustrophobic novel the past is haunted by the possibilities of our frightening present.
In putting Alice centre stage, Underdown has to work out how, without violating period norms, her heroine can discover what Matthew is up to. Thankfully, there is only one episode of overhearing a conversation through the wall, that other trusty standby. Gradually she puts things together; there’s a slow burn of horror, the sense of something huge she is powerless to stop. n order to be a witness, Alice becomes, to a certain extent, complicit; when she tries to confront her brother, he slaps her down easily. If the novel has a fault, it is that Matthew remains inscrutable, none of Alice’s hypotheses gaining much traction ... Little is known about the witchfinder’s sudden demise, which gives Underdown free rein. There’s also a chilling twist, indicating that the darkness never really goes away. This is a clever novel that stays faithful to its period and its premise.
Underdown has found a fresh approach, spinning a tale that’s entertaining and thought-provoking — with a valuable message for our own times ... Underdown beautifully creates a palpable sense of anxiety ... Underdown has written a novel that grapples with two very important questions: how those in power oppress the powerless through fear and intimidation, and how the bystanders must decide what, if anything, they will do to stop it. The Witchfinder’s Sister serves as an important reminder — especially valuable today — of the consequences of such an imbalance.