The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery – Allison Rushby

Spirited Graveyards are not a new concept in children’s fiction but this blends gothic-tinted tales such as The Graveyard Book with Historical Fiction and a dash of Indiana Jones too.

This is a book that reaches back in time and delights the weird little child in me that embraced the spooky and magical side of life. Oh how I would have read this to pieces as a child.

UK Cover of The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery
Cover by Lisa Horton

Flossie Birdwhistle is dead. But yet she watches over the interred spirits of Highgate Cemetary aided by the Spirit if Highgate itself that appears to her in the form of a friendly fox Hazel.

Whilst responsibilities in the Afterlife are enough it’s the world of the Living that are disturbing the Eternal Rest as World War II rages over London.

One night whilst observing damage to St Paul’s Catherdral Flossie sees something shocking, the spirit of an SS officer spying in London, and as reports come through from other cemeteries in London Flossie begins to realise that this spy is no ordinary spy and she must battle to save all worlds.

A strange feeling emanated from this cemetery.Flossie felt that the dead were, for the most part, peacefully at rest. But there was something else…an uneasy, unsettled feeling

This is a novel pitched at the younger end of Middle grade.

The writing is springy and light yet pacy, keeps up the action to keep interest but maintains pockets of pause and heart to take breaths and meaning.

Fans ready to move on from highly illustrated and lighter early chapter may find a little magic in Flossie especially if they like a dash of the spooky or action packed stories.

For me however there is magic in how much heart Flossie brings to the tale, her sense of humanity and empathy to those she watches over, relieves their worries and fears and encourages them back to the eternal sleep, never awakening them unless it is for the sake of the cemetery itself. She’s a remarkable character and I’m sure will capture the hearts of young readers who enjoy positive ghost stories.

Australian/US BOOK COVER for the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery

The image on the Australian & US covers- I know we don’t tend to do faces as much on British Middle grade and the British cover allows more people to project their own image of Flossie but I love the aesthetic here with a hint to artists like Margaret Keane and Jasmine Becket Griffiths’ fairies.

The historical fiction side of it is interesting of course as World War II set fiction is always popular and this offers a little light relief amongst tales of evacuees! There’s been a lot of historical research and consideration from the cemeteries themselves to the supernatural with all the occult mythology that surrounds Nazi Germany. Rushby takes looks at the mystic rumours of Quests for the Holy Grail, Atlantis or in this case here using the dead as spies upon the living so it has this Indiana Jones race against time and evil feel.

Far more exciting for young children to breathlessly follow our heroine Flossie as she battles ghost-Nazis to save us all.

Flossie has learned a lot about love in death. About how it could cross all sorts of boundaries- time and distance, the twilight and living worlds.

A great adventure with a spooky twist, idea for Halloween but also for history fans to see some of the social and architectural history of London. It may sound silly but it has an extra special value for me as Highgate cemetery is a stones throw from where my grandparents lived in Islington when I was growing up, and not far from where my grandmother would have been living during the war herself.

Apparently a sequel was published in Australia earlier this year that is set 7 years on from the events at the end of this book and I am now hoping that Walker Books have bought the rights as basically I need to know!!!

The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby is published by Walker Books.

6 thoughts on “The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery – Allison Rushby

    1. It’s got something rather precious about it, it’s short and sweet and a rather atmospheric read without being too spooky!
      I’m gutted though we didn’t get a variation on the Aussie/US cover as that is gorgeous though I understand and appreciate the ability to project your own image of Flossie on our one too

      Liked by 1 person

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