Review Blog

Apr 30 2018

The turnkey by Allison Rushby

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925126921
(Age: middle school) Recommended. Themes: Cemeteries, Death, World War Two, Adventure, Churchill, Supernatural, Bravery. Flossie Birdwhistle died twelve years ago and is now the turnkey at Highgate Cemetery in London. It is her job to ensure the dead are truly resting, that their souls are contentedly asleep. But it is World War Two and nightly bomb raids cause damage, unsettling some of those souls within her jurisdiction. When she spies a mysterious German Officer carrying a strange object she must investigate, fearful of what he is about. She enlists the help of Ada, the turnkey from Tower Hamlets Cemetery, dead a hundred years, but now her friend.
This highly original story intrigued me from the start, offering a dead girl as the hero, set against the upheaval of World War Two, showing the results of bomb damage rarely shown.
In keeping the departed resting Flossie goes to some lengths to make sure they are happy and content but the mysterious man in an SS uniform worries her. When the Turnkey from Brompton Cemetery turns up with nearly one hundred recently departed Chelsea Pensioners woken by the sound of war overhead she puts them to work. They are sent to places all over London to watch and report back.
They find him in the War Rooms beneath London, actually listening to the war maneuvers being planned by Churchill and his entourage. Flossie goes to the Invalid Cemetery in Berlin and there meets the curator, a young frightened girl who eventually gives her information about the SS officer.
Flossie is deeply concerned, it is the same man who captained the German warship which bombed her father's ship in 1915, leaving her fatherless, a man to be feared. His crystal ball holds his soul and that of others, a relic from the Mayan civilisation, and as feared today as then, allowing him to instruct the living.
With escapades through the Magnificent Seven, the seven great inner city cemeteries of London, travels to Berlin, the War Rooms, British Library reading rooms and helped by a pod of Chelsea Pensioners, courageous Flossie is able to piece together the machinations of the German Officer and thwart his plans to take over London and use the cemeteries as building spaces for the new Nazi headquarters.
This is an exciting and very different read, one which held me to the end. Not a ghost story as such, the supernatural elements form the background against which a very determined young woman fights for her country.
Fran Knight

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