cover image The Golden Key

The Golden Key

Marian Womack. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78909-325-4

Womack‘s ethereal debut novel (following 2018’s short story collection Lost Objects) is precise and eerie, but emotionally flat. In the late-Victorian era, Samuel Moncrieff, a melancholy university student escaping a tragedy, the details of which remain murky, joins his godfather in London and falls in with a demimonde of actors and occultists. Meanwhile, Eliza Waltraud mourns her breakup with her “life companion,” Mina, by retreating to a family property haunted by her mother in the strange stretch of English countryside called the Fens. Connecting Eliza and Samuel is respected medium and master of disguise Helena Walton-Cisneros, whose investigation into a 20-year-old disappearance in the Fens puts her on the trail of both Mina and Samuel. Plot and character alike are subordinated to dazzling atmospherics and a pervasive humorless gloom. With a slow, dreamlike pace, this could hardly be considered a page-turner, and readers looking for a more traditional supernatural detective story will be dissatisfied. Patient readers willing to wade through Womack’s murky, off-kilter world will be rewarded with moments of disquieting beauty. Agent: Alexander Cochran, the C&W Agency. (Feb.)