The Golden Key (Marian Womack) – Review

The Golden Key has everything that I really enjoy in a book. It’s got got mystery, a hint of horror, the supernatural, a strong female lead, and a Victorian era setting that I adore. However, I struggled to really connect with the book even though I’d been looking forward to it for months.

The Golden Key is set in the days following the death of Queen Victoria, and focuses on Helena Walton-Cisneros, a female investigator who has been hired to look into the twenty year old disappearance of the three step-daughters of the reclusive Lady Matthews.

The book is steeped in a sense of spookiness and dread as the story follows Samuel Moncrieff, a young man who is deep into the world of spiritualism and seances. Using the real world craze for the supernatural that was sweeping through London at the time, the book manages to create a great atmosphere that flows through the whole novel. The sense of creeping horror is easily one of the best parts of the book, and only increases when Helena begins to investigate the children’s disappearance in the Norfolk Fens. However, this may be one of the only parts of the book that I enjoyed.

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My biggest issue with The Golden Key is a very disjointed and broken narrative. Marian Womack has created a connect the dots style mystery, one that unfolds throughout the novel, but it also feels las though events happen in a similarly unconnected way. There are a few storylines that come together towards the latter half of the book, but before that happens it’s hard to keep track of who’s who, and why their story is being included. This is made even harder at times by the amount of backstory and depth that Womack gives certain aspects.

For example, there are several pages towards the latter quarter of the book that go into great detail about one of the secondary character’s past, specifically her friendship with another woman who’s not in the book, their shared love of fairy stories, and their subsequent falling out. It’s an interesting aside that gives more detail to one of the characters, but it seems like the only reason it’s included is to show that this person felt bad about letting her friend down in the past, so wants to go out of her way to help Helena. I couldn’t help but feel that she could have still decided to help Helena without having to spend the better part of a chapter outlining her personal history.

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This isn’t the only time that this happens, as Womack gives readers extra details on a number of side characters or situations that don’t have a huge impact upon the main story. In a way it reminds me of the amount of detail Stephen King can sometimes lavish upon his bigger books. It’s great if that’s the kind of thing you like, but at times it does seem to drag the pace down a bit.

Sadly I also felt that the book didn’t quite stick its landing either, and the conclusion left me a little confused and unsure of what happened. There’s a definite sense of an ending, but I’m not sure exactly what or why. Leaving a conclusion open to interpretation can be a fine thing, but when so much of the book was made around this mystery I wanted to have things confirmed for me, not just vague hints. There is a mention in the acknowledgements that there might be more to come with Helena in the future, but I don’t want to have to wait until a sequel to find out what happened with this conclusion.

The Golden Key is an interesting supernatural mystery, with some intriguing characters and some unique ideas. It may not appeal to everyone but even if it doesn’t set your world on fire you’ll still find some good things to keep you entertained.

The Golden Key is out on 18th February from Titan Books.

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