Review of ‘The Turnkey’ by Allison Rushby


Title: The Turnkey

Author: Allison Rushby

Publisher: Walker Books Australia

Age Range: 9+

Themes: ghosts; paranormal; history; World War II; historical fiction.

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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. 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? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country.

Let me start by saying that this book took me longer to read than it should have, not because I didn’t love it, but because I am terrified of ghosts, even ones written into existence for young readers. Consequently I could only read ‘The Turnkey’ during daylight hours – and most of daylight hours, in my house anyway, are not conducive to reading!

Flossie is very possibly the most beautiful little ghost I have ever read about; she is brave and kind, resourceful and persistent and she has a great sense of responsibility towards both the living and the souls who are at rest. Rushby has dealt sensitively with Flossie’s life, death and afterlife so that the character remains totally appropriate and relateable for the intended 9+ audience. I am always on the lookout for strong female role models in literature and Flossie ticks all the boxes, especially her kindness; we could do with more kindness in life and in afterlife. Flossie is a character who many young readers will connect with, despite her translucence!

Historical books abound, and World War II ones are perennial favourites, but with its paranormal themes and sense of mystery, ‘The Turnkey’ offers something new to capture the attention of a wide readership and extend their thinking beyond the known into a whole other territory. It is very common for young readers to get ‘stuck’ in a favourite genre, and World War II books are one of the common ones where readers ‘stay’ for a very long time. It is a rather genius idea to have told the World War II history from the perspective of a ghost and thereby shuffle readers sideways into fantasy and paranormal books. I’ve always felt that Allison has a really good grasp on what young readers enjoy and she is particularly good at recommendations on quirky books, graphic novels, classic English literature and fantasy. I often see her suggestions in our Facebook group, ‘Your Kid’s Next Read’ and jot the titles down – it’s not often I don’t know of a title and I always get a little jolt thinking, ‘how come she knows that one and I don’t’. Reading ‘The Turnkey’, I could see Allison’s love of history, quirkiness and fine literature shining through the lines of her beautiful tale.

‘The Turnkey’ is full of research potential for the classroom or out of personal interest. Allison Rushby has cleverly woven accurate historical details, places, people and objects such as the Holy Grail and Mayan crystal skulls, through the gentle but fast-moving narrative.

Highly recommended – even if you don’t like ghosts. Actually I feel bad even saying that, Flossie was absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure we would be friends, if she existed, which I kind of hope she doesn’t because…well…ghosts.

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