The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
Alice is forced to return to the village of Manningtree after her husband is killed in a work accident in London in the early 17th century. Her mother recently passed but she was once close with her younger brother, Matthew Hopkins, but hasn’t seen him in five years and is a little nervous since she will be reliant on him for her wellbeing. Alice has reason to be concerned. Matthew is now an associate of the powerful and influential in the village and has started writing down interview transcripts and evidence gathered at the homes of unpopular women in the village accused of the murder of livestock and people through witchcraft. Alice is stunned to discover not only her brother’s methods but how far his reach has extended. When she is forced to help him gather evidence Alice knows that even being the witchfinder’s brother is not enough to protect her from the growing madness in the countryside.
Alice is the narrator of the story which works well because she has background on the town and Matthew but is ignorant of his life and his community standing in the past few years. She tries to see the young boy she knew in the man she relies upon, but as the mistreatment and atrocities he condones pile up she finds herself growing more concerned for those she cares about and herself.
Matthew Hopkins was a real person whose interrogations resulted in the jailing and hanging deaths of many, many women. Even though the novel is loosely based on what little we know about Hopkins’s life, the author took some liberties including adding a great gasp right at the end. Anyone who has an interest in the Salem Witch Trials (Hopkins’s methods were used in America as well) or the hardships faced by women dependant on relatives in past centuries will want to read Alice’s story.