The Key in the Lock  

by Beth Underdown

Published by Penguin Random House

This novel has been widely dubbed a homage to Daphne du Maurier. Yes, there are fires and houses and we’re in Cornwall. Beyond that I didn’t find too much similarity although it would be a good wider reading recommendation for A level students who are studying Rebecca.

The novel opens in 1918 when the narrator and her husband Richard Boscawen have just heard that their only son Tim has been killed in action – although there’s a painful question mark over the exact circumstances of his death. From then on, the novel shifts backwards and forwards in time as Beth Underdown gradually reveals how the narrator and Richard came to be married in a story which includes the death of a child, a maid whose role is not quite what it seems, a bullying landowner, his apparently gentle loveable son and several servants who know things. It’s tight, page turning plotting as the past haunts and informs the present.

I enjoyed the Cornish setting and admired Beth Underdown’s characterisation and plot twists. Few people in this novel are actually what they seem and as in all the best stories there’s a “sua padre” moment, as in The Marriage of Figaro when someone’s paternity turns out not be as first assumed. Mrs Fossett the housekeeper is no Mrs Danvers but she’s a household force to be reckoned with and we could all do with Jake, a servant of sorts, in our lives.

Review by Susan Elkin