BOOK REVIEW: The Turnkey by Allison Rushby
Walker Books Australia
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London.
Standing on the Victoria Embankment, not another person in sight, she had wondered crossly at the horrible wastefulness of it all. The living cared so little for life. If only she could introduce them to the dead in her cemetery. They’d give so much for just five more minutes of what the living seemed to take for granted.
Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to?
While a Turnkey could take one of their interred outside the cemetery gates with them to settle unfinished business and so on, it often wasn’t advisable. It could be an unpleasant feeling for them to be separated from their body – whether it had been buried or cremated, The dead were meant to be at rest.
He wasn’t a Turnkey. He didn’t have an iron ring or a key of any sort in his hand. He did hold something, though – a strange object that he shifted now from underneath is right arm to his left, tucking it neatly and carefully into his left elbow.
Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?
“Tell me something about him,” Flossie pleaded. “Anything. And I’ll see what I can do.”
There was a moment’s hesitation and then the girl ran towards the fence and came as close to Flossie as possible. She gripped the railings tightly between her hands.
“He is part of the Ahnenerbe” she whispered, her eyes unblinking. “And he is coming back now. I can feel it. You must go. Right now! Please, go! Schnell! Lauf los!”
The concept behind this book is interesting, if not entirely original, and I so very much wanted to love it. It’s by an Aussie author, it has a fox on the cover, one of my friends is thanked in the acknowledgements… but for this reader, it was a biiiiiiiiiiig miss.
The idea of the Turnkeys is interesting, and some of the descriptions are gorgeous and chilling all at once.
Just last week she had viewed a similar townhouse, only streets away, sliced strangely in two, a piano hanging precariously from the drawing room. It was like a macabre life-sized doll’s house, just waiting for a gigantic hand to descend from the sky and rearrange the pieces inside, ready for the absent family to return and for play to continue.
This is a story of World War II, and of cemeteries, ghosts, and Nazi related mystery. But sadly it felt incredibly cold and rather dull for this reader, and so very lacking in emotion.
Perhaps this was down to the fact that the main characters are ghosts, and so their “lives” (so to speak) are somewhat dulled when compared to the experience they had while they were still breathing, but this doesn’t make for an easy or engaging read.
There also seems to be this running theme throughout the novel, wherein one of the other Turnkeys goes looking for Flossie at a cemetery that isn’t her own, and then leaves a message with the Turnkey of that other cemetery.
Basically, it’s like you’re looking for your friend Emily, and rather than going to Emily‘s house, you go and visit Hannah and ask her to pass the message on to Emily. Later, you visit Chelsea and ask her to pass a message on to Emily, too (a different message). But, here’s the kicker… you can essentially teleport wherever you want and there’s someone who lives with Emily and cannot leave Emily’s house, who would also be able to pass on a message.
There were many instances of the characters doing things that didn’t seem to make sense in terms of motivation, or in terms of common sense, and there was very little character development which also contributed to the disconnect for this reader.
This could have been a great read, as it had a lot of interesting elements and ideas, but it needed a little more heart, and a much more thorough edit.
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