The Turnkey by Allison Rushby

This is delightful, though probably best for readers about 10+ because it’s set during WW2 and, while not graphic, it features air raids and the deaths, injuries, and destruction they caused. It deals with death in a sweetly reassuring and semi-secular-fantasy way: the dead are described as being peacefully at rest with their loved ones enjoying a long, pleasant dream. Ghosts rise when something disturbs the interred body, but most ghosts do not leave the cemetery where they are buried.

Flossie is a ghost who was 12 years old when she died. She is the current Turnkey of her cemetery, meaning that it is her job to look after the dead and help them return to rest if something disturbs them – and with bombs raining down there is a lot of disturbance. A major perk of a Turnkey’s job is that they alone are able to travel outside their cemeteries, to anywhere they think of in a blink of an eye.

Flossie spends much of her time surveying the damage being done to London from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is here that she notices another ghost – but one who is not a Turnkey and also, more worryingly, one who is wearing the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer. Flossie alerts her fellow Turnkeys and – the beauty of this book – nobody takes this investigation away from Flossie. Instead she is assigned a small army of Chelsea Pensioner ghosts who track her Nazi ghost and REPORT BACK TO FLOSSIE! She’s in charge, the whole way through.

In addition, Flossie has two female friends from the start, who respond to her with care and fondness (three, if you count the “soul” of Highgate Cemetery who appears to her in the form of a vixen), and makes another two female friends over the course of the book. Female friendship is unusual and underrepresented in fiction, so this is a big plus.

There is only one character who doesn’t think Flossie is fit for the position of Turnkey, but his opinion is dismissed as being “Victorian” – that being the era of his life and death. Another tick for this book is that the set up where a male character is going to apparently step in to solve the dilemma Flossie instigates in order to stop the SS officer turns out to be a bait and switch. Flossie and another female character are empowered to save the day. There are some dark moments, including the permanent loss of a heroic (female) character (i.e., not merely returning to rest), but overall this is an uplifting and surreptitiously feminist story.

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