The Key in the Lock – Beth Underdown

I have been absolutely addicted to mysteries and thrillers recently, so this ARC arrived at the perfect time. Set during the First World War, this has two different mysteries at its core, and predominately focuses on how they impact the affected families – in particular Ivy Boscawen, our main character. In the present, she mourns her son, and tries to figure out how exactly he died, all the while being haunted by the death of a small boy in her past. The Key in the Lock is creepy, captivating and haunting. A perfect winter read, really, even if it’s not a flawless book.

Many thanks to Penguin/Viking for sending me an ARC for review. All opinions are my own as usual.

RELEASE DATE: 13/01/2022


SYNOPSIS: I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light… Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.

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.

But once you open a door to the past, can you ever truly close it again? (from Viking)

OPINIONS: This is in parts a historical novel, a mystery and a ghost story. Ivy is haunted by the ghosts of her son and her past, though it is long left unclear whether these are literal or metaphorical. It is one of those books that I find incredibly hard to review, as I think I feel fonder of it in hindsight than I did while reading, already considering a reread to get back into that spooky and uncanny wintery mood with a mug of hot chocolate. The Key in the Lock is certainly one of those novels where you end up wondering what is truly happening until you get to the very end, and I’d love to go back and see the seeds of those revelations in the text.

Ivy Boscawen isn’t the most sympathetic of main characters. While she suffers, she is also an unreliable narrator in a lot of ways, and a very privileged woman. I was never quite sure if I felt with her for her losses and her challenges in life, or if I was annoyed at her for being so oblivious to everyone else’s issues and the way she treated those close to her. But ultimately, that means that she is a great character. She is well-written and complex, and causes emotional reactions in the reader. And to me, that is more important that many other things about a book.

The Key in the Lock is certainly not a book that left me unaffected on an emotional level. It is compelling, unexpected and atmospheric. I would put this in the category of vibe-books, which I’m coming to appreciate as something that does work very well for me. If you too feel that way, I really recommend you pick this up when it comes out next week, as it’s leaving a lasting impression on me.

Add The Key in the Lock to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

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