The Witchfinder’s Sister

Written by Beth Underdown
Review by Francesca Pelaccia

It’s 1645 in England as Alice Hopkins, a lost and penniless widow, returns to her brother Matthew’s home. Her once-shy brother has transformed into a man she cannot support or endure. Wealthy and respected but also feared, Matthew hunts witches on the recommendations of townspeople who hold irrational grudges against marginalized, deformed, weak or old women. Alice is unable to either convince Matthew of his moral depravity or stop him from travelling through Essex, interrogating suspected women, noting the testimony of complainants, and emotionally and physically breaking down the women’s barriers until they declare what he wants to hear. To control and break her will, Matthew even manipulates Alice into accompanying him and helping him do his interrogations.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is Alice’s story and also Matthew’s. In her debut novel, Beth Underdown unravels their complex histories slowly, adding layers of mystery as she reveals evils and personal agendas. No one is who he or she seems in this Papist community. Underdown brings to life the stories of the accused women as well as their accusers and delivers a haunting finale. The writing is superb and propelled me to read on while simultaneously pushing me away. Loosely based on fragments about a real witch hunter of the same name, The Witchfinder’s Sister is as compelling as it is disturbing. I highly recommend it.