ARC review: The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

the cover of The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown (title in the middle with a picture of a key, surrounded by a layout of a house)

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

I received an advance reader copy for free in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author! Receiving a free copy has in no way influenced my opinions on the book.

Expected publication date: January 13th 2022

Historical fiction, mystery

304 pages

Goodreads page

Buddy read with the amazing Stephen from Stephen Writes

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unfurling out of an upper window and a hectic orange light cascading across the terrace.

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.

I requested The Key in the Lock in no time after I saw it being advertised for fans of The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I adored both of these books, and so I expected The Key in the Lock to provide a rich atmospheric tale with eerie twists. Although my hopes were pretty high to begin with, The Key in the Lock also seems to intentionally build up the readers’ expectations at the beginning of the book. The characters tip toe around a great mystery and something monstrous that happened in the past. Unfortunately, I felt that the Key in the Lock suffered badly from both the comparison to books by Elizabeth Macneal and Jessie Burton, and from the hype in the beginning of the book. In the end, the revelations don’t live up to the hype, and I couldn’t sense why anyone would compare The Key in the Lock to the Doll Factory or the Miniaturist.

The tale seemed very interesting to begin with, partly because the characters felt odd in a very curious way. I was certain that a lot of red herrings and Easter eggs were hidden in the narrative, and I couldn’t wait to find out why the characters behaved in certain ways. Sadly, the hints and tips and twists never appeared. The characters felt odd and distant, which made it difficult to root for them. I also couldn’t understand their reasoning at times, the main character, Ivy, being the greatest mystery of all.

The story is told in dual timelines that touch on both the mysterious events in 1888 and the first world war in 1918. I usually like time jumps such as this, but here it felt like the separate timelines took away from the story. The narrative jumps around, and the earlier timeline felt much more engaging throughout the book. I sometimes audibly groaned when a new chapter begun in 1918 rather than 1888. The timelines also discount some of the tragic events, making them seem less important and inconsequential for the story.

In addition to the separate timelines, I was confused by occasional changes in the writing style. While most of the narrative was typical of a novel, one of the chapters made it seem like Ivy was actually writing the story in a diary or letter format. This didn’t make any sense in the context of the previous narrative, and I feel that it was an odd choice from the author.

Regardless of my issues with The Key in the Lock, I must say that it was a delightfully quick book to read. The chapters were short and engaging which made the book whizz by. Also – I had a particularly great experience reading this (although the book was far from a favourite) because I buddy read it with Stephen @ Stephen Writes 😊 I loved our discussions of the sections and we came up with some crazy twists (that sadly didn’t come to fruition haha)

I also enjoyed the setting and timing of the events. The book is mostly set around Christmas in both timelines, which made it a great read in December. Not exactly a festive book – but nice to pick up around winter!

Overall, I think The Key in the Lock would make a great quick-read when you are looking for an intriguing mystery. Although the book doesn’t provide the depth that I wish it had, it is a good one to pick up and read in one or two sittings – just don’t go in with too high hopes!

picture of my rating: 2.5/5 stars
2.5/5 stars

Are you planning to read The Key in the Lock? Although it wasn’t for me, I’m sure that many readers will fall in love with it. Most of all, it would make a really good rainy day read (or even better, a snowy day read!).

Thank you so much for reading!

- Pauliina

2 thoughts on “ARC review: The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

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