The Golden Key – Marian Womack – blog tour extract

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Gothic mystery The Golden Key set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author Marian Womack. More about the book later, first I’ve got an extract for you.

That afternoon Sam went to visit John Woodbury, paying a long-overdue visit to the old man’s newly refurbished establishment in Cecil Court. The Little Haunted Bookshop specialised in books on Spiritualism, psychic research and its related sciences, as well as bewildering phenomena in all their possible manifestations. It also boasted a little printing press in the back, from which some small pamphlets condemning Spiritualist fraud had been published.

Sam found Mr Woodbury writing notes in a thick dusty ledger.

‘My friend! What a welcome sight!’

Woodbury insisted in giving him a tour of the cramped premises. Once Theosophy, Magnetism, Clairvoyance, Psychology, Mesmerism, Phrenology, Psychical Research, Astrology, Spiritism, Spirit Communication, Phonography, Agnosticism and the inevitable Vegetarianism had been dealt with, Woodbury insisted on showing him the latest book arrivals, among them Towards a Science of Immortality: Heat- Death of the Sun, and a New Dawn for Mankind, the lengthily titled monograph by none other than Count Maximilian Justus von Daniken Bévcar. Sam found himself compelled to buy a copy.

Mr Woodbury intrigued him. He was a genuinely zealous prosecutor of tricksters and fakes, who seemed to have many other interests outside of his work for the SPR. Once the business was done of admiring and interesting himself—as much as he was capable—in everything he was shown, Sam asked Woodbury if he knew the mysterious Miss Walton. Woodbury smiled oddly, a gesture Sam refused to read much into as he drank the cup of tea that the older man had prepared for him. Nonetheless, he seemed happy to respond:

‘She has gained the reputation of being a “respectable vessel” for communicating with the shadows. She is a serious young woman, the granddaughter of Ovid Walton.’

‘The classical scholar?’

‘Exactly. Miss Walton is educated—the last thing one would expect in a medium, if you ask me.’ Or in a woman, Sam thought he meant.

‘I see.’

‘She studied at Girton, by all accounts with the full support of her grandfather. Afterwards she trained briefly in one of the London hospitals, I think.’

‘She trained as a nurse? Nothing odd in that!’

Woodbury smiled his crooked smile again, full of square teeth.

‘Oh no, my friend. The woman trained to be a doctor, of all things!’

‘Is she a doctor, then?’ Sam refused to be scandalised by the notion; this was the twentieth century.

‘She was expelled from her studies. A little bit of a scandal, if you ask me, although I can’t remember the particulars right now…’

That was all the old man was prepared to share, it seemed.

Well, doesn’t that sound splendid? Can’t wait to read it myself. Huge thanks to Polly Grice and Titan Books for the copy for review – look out for that later!

London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.

Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.

But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

Black River – Will Dean


Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.


Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?


Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

Black River sees the return of reporter Tuva Moodyson, following the events of Dark Pines and Red Snow. Both superb books that kicked off my reading for 2018 and 2019 respectively, so I was thrilled to get the chance to read the third book to start 2020.

While Dark Pines was firmly rooted in the creepy Utgard forest, with its host of slightly odd inhabitants, and Red Snow took place in and around the equally odd Grimberg Liquorice factory, Black River sees the action move out of Gavrik to Snake River. And yes, the inhabitants there are just as strange…

Tuva has moved away from Gavrik to start her new life down in Malmö when she receives a call that her best friend Tammy has gone missing. Before long she’s back up north on the hunt. And it’s Midsommar, shortest night of the year, and the near-constant daylight is putting everyone under stress.

I adored the first two books, and am firmly #TeamTuva. She’s a brilliant character, though Will Dean does seem to rather relish putting her and those closest to her through the wringer!

We’re faced this time with a rather different Gavrik, sweltering in the summer sun with a constant cloud of insects trying to eat Tuva as she looks for her missing friend. The forest lurks menacingly, filled with things and people that are out to get you if you put a foot wrong. Frustration also abounds as most of the locals don’t seem to see Tammy as one of them, despite being as Swedish as they are. Then another girl goes missing and Tuva has to battle to keep her friend in the spotlight.

It’s a testament to Dean’s writing that you can almost feel the oppressive atmosphere, the swarms of insects that’ll have you batting away imaginary mosquitoes as you read. And if you thought Utgard Forest was bad, just wait until you get to Snake River itself…

The story fair rattles along, thwarting Tuva at every turn. It’s intense and scary at times, and there’s a real sense of panic in the air. You hope that all will turn out well in the end, but you can never tell until you turn the final page.

This is book three in a series so if you’ve not met Tuva yet, you should really go back to the start at Dark Pines and begin there. If you’ve already read the first two books, you’ll need no encouragement from me to pick up this one. It’s as good, if not better than you’d expect it to be.

Hugely recommended.

Black River by Will Dean is published by Point Blank in March 2020. Many thanks to Point Blank for the review copy of Will’s book.

Chilling Effect – Valerie Valdes

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down. 

A captain, a crew and their beloved ship, all having some splendid adventures in deep space, pursued by a variety of evil types and a mysterious corporation. Throw in a smattering of cursing in a different language. There are some strong Firefly vibes going on in this delightful space opera romp.

Oh, and psychic cats.

Chilling Effect is, in short, a lot of fun. I loved the characters and their snappy banter. I loved the big scale adventures, even if they felt a little too episodic at times. The stakes are big, the baddies are suitably bad, but maybe the peril doesn’t feel quite perilous enough as our heroes find themselves bouncing out of danger and onto the next shenanigan, which is handily just around the corner.

If you’re looking for some hard-SF ‘serious’ space opera, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking to spend some time in the company of a bunch of rogues and misfits, playing spot the influences, then Chilling Effect might just be the book you’re looking for.

Good fun. Looking forward to the next adventure of Captain Innocente and La Sirena Negra!

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes is published by Orbit Books. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

The Sinner – Martyn Waites

In prison not everyone is guilty . . .

Tom Killgannon, ex-undercover police officer and now in witness protection, is recalled to active service by his handler, DS Sheridan. His mission is to befriend notorious child killer Noel Cunningham and find out where he buried the bodies of his victims. The only problem is that Tom has to obtain that information from within Blackmoor prison itself. Undercover and with only DS Sheridan knowing he is there, Tom soon runs into danger.

In the prison is convicted gangster Dean Foley. He used to run Manchester’s biggest gang, until Tom’s testimony put him away for life. He recognises Tom, and so begins a cat-and-mouse game as Tom fights for survival before Foley can get his revenge.

But why can’t Tom reach DS Sheridan and what is the real reason that he has been sent to Blackmoor prison?

Towards the end of 2019 I picked up a copy of The Old Religion, the first book in Martyn Waites’ Tom Kilgannon series. Devoured it (metaphorically speaking) over the course of a day.

And now we have the second book, The Sinner, which I was greatly looking forward to. Tom Kilgannon is back, and is plucked from his safe(ish) witness protection life and thrust back into active service undercover. He has to infiltrate the notorious Blackmoor prison to get get some information out of convicted child killer Noel Cunningham.

Things naturally go awry fairly quickly (and fairly unpleasantly) and Tom is forced to face up to his past in no uncertain terms. And his past is not a cosy place…

Another quick read, this one. The action comes thick and fast from fairly early on, throwing Tom from one danger to the next. Trapped inside the prison with no friends and no way out, he’s forced to adapt to survive and it’s a real page-turner (albeit on kindle so not *quite* the same…) to find out how he’s going to get himself out!

I like Tom as a character, and was interested to find out more about his backstory, something which is alluded to in the first book but never really put on full display. The prison is nicely oppressive and claustrophobic, giving a hard backdrop to Tom’s quest for information. Despite one or two minor niggles with the premise of sending in an undercover cop into prison, I quickly got past that and into the story, and the second half practically rattled by.

Whilst you could read The Sinner as a standalone, I think you’d definitely benefit from reading The Old Religion first – they’re definitely separate stories, but characters from the second get set up in the first, and it gives you some context to Kilgannon’s backstory.

Good fun. Recommended.

The Sinner by Martyn Waites is published by @ZaffreBooks and is out now.

Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers and Zaffre for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance ebook for review.

Death Deserved – Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV.

Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated … evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing…

Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention.
Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

What happens when you get two of Norway’s finest crime writers together to collaborate on a book?

Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Thomas Enger’s books -in particular Killed and Cursed from his Henning Juul books are wonderfully dark and riveting, beautifully layered and expertly plotted.

I must confess that I’d not come across Jørn Lier Horst before until reading this book and discovered that he’s the author of the books that the excellent tv series Wisting was based on.

So it was with no small measure of excitement that I set off into Death Deserved. A heady mix of serial killer/police procedural will always pique my interest, and Death Deserved delivers solidly on both counts. Add into the mix celebrity blogger Emma Ramm doing her best to investigate the mysterious missing Sonja Nordstrøm, and you’ve got a cracking tale of cat (or, I suppose cats) and mouse.

The writing is, as you’d expect from these Nordic literary giants, splendid, as is the intricate plot. Tensions ratchet up along with the body count as Ramm and Blix race to work out the connection between them all.

It’s more than just a police procedural though and I suspect that this is where each author adds their own special something to the mix. There’s a strong human drama at play here too, as we delve into Blix’s past and the hostage situation nineteen years previously. It’s fascinating to see how the two timelines interweave and play out over the course of the book.

The contrasting characters of Blix and Ramm play off each other really well, and I’m delighted to see that will be the first of a series. I’m looking forward to seeing what Horst and Enger come up with for them next!

I enjoyed this book a lot (as you can probably tell). If you’re a fan of either Thomas Enger or Jørn Lier Horst, then I highly recommend you read this. And if you’ve not experienced either, this might just be the perfect place to start.

Death Deserved by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books in January 2020. Hat tip to Anne Bruce for the excellent translation.

Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the review copy.

Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger are the internationally bestselling Norwegian authors of the William Wisting and Henning Juul series respectively.

Jørn Lier Horst first rose to literary fame with his No. 1 internationally bestselling William Wisting series. A former investigator in the Norwegian police, Horst imbues all his works with an unparalleled realism and suspense.

Thomas Enger is the journalist-turned-author behind the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Henning Juul series. Enger’s trademark has become a darkly gritty voice paired with key social messages and tight plotting. Besides writing fiction for both adults and young adults, Enger also works as a music composer.

Death Deserved is Jørn Lier Horst & Thomas Enger’s first co-written thriller.

Seven Blades in Black – Sam Sykes

Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.

Vengeance is its own reward.

This is a big, chunky book.

And I loved it.

All of it.

I loved Sal the Cacophony. I loved her snark, her attitude, her relentless drive to cross all the names off her list. I loved her gun (the aforementioned Cacophony) which fires magic bullets. She’s scarred, emotionally and physically but refuses to let that get in the way of her quest. She’s splendidly cynical and world-weary, and often very very funny.

“…most Vagrants showing up where you live will ruin your day. Not me, of course. A girl like me tends to ruin your whole week.”

Sal the Cacophony

Sykes clearly loves a lot of genre stuff – this is almost like an episode of Final Fantasy writ large (even featuring Congeniality – a large, grumpy bird creature not entirely dissimilar to FF’s chocobo) – blade guns, hulking mechs, bloody awesome magics (and often very bloody).

It’s so JRPG it hurts. But in a good way.

And there’s a sword called Jeff. Who doesn’t want to read a story featuring a sword called Jeff?

I loved the worldbuilding, the magic system, the sheer joy of the writing on display here.

We follow the story as Sal tells it in flashback to her executioner as a sort of confession. And what a story it is. It’s fast and furious, funny and tender, bloody and brutal. We travel across the world of the Scar as Sal tracks down the Mages on her list, determined to end them before they end her. It’s a story of revenge against the people who took something from her.

And Sykes does a magnificent job with that list – each one is splendidly different and unique. And each boss battle (as they seem to be) ratchets up the tension and peril by yet another notch, until the glorious finale.

Supporting characters are just as good – Liette, Sal’s mad scientist friend is wonderful – I’d love to see more of her in future.

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes is published by Gollancz and is out now. Thanks to Gollancz for the advance copy via NetGalley to review.

Five Reasons Why on A.I. with Heather Child. Everything About You.

Today I’ve got a guest post from Heather Child, author of the spookily brilliant Everything About You (you can read my full review here)

AIs are becoming more like designer friends

Google Assistant and Alexa haven’t always been on our wavelength. Alexa went through a period of terrifying people with its witchy laughter, and has been known to record private conversations and email them to other users, as well as making some serious blunders with shopping lists.

It probably got a lot of abuse from users as a result, and perhaps this is why some of the new generation of intelligent assistants are being designed to be less ‘assistant’ and more ‘friend’.

Microsoft’s Xiaoice, an AI styled as a teenage girl, has 660 million users and mixes in emotions and empathy – she doesn’t always answer questions, but learns to be more ‘human’ every day. People send her gifts and seek her advice on all kinds of personal issues.

In Everything About You, the AI has been built from the data of the main character’s foster sister, meaning the relationship is personal from the very beginning.

So we started with search engines, and now we have helpful ‘friends’. It’s a blurring moment between service technology and humanity, and our perception of ‘friendship’ could potentially change as a result.

A Japanese man who married a hologram (again modelled on a teenage girl) hit the headlines last November, and he is one of thousands who have married similar AI characters. Part of the attraction of these virtual friends and partners is that they don’t come with the challenges of a real human. With some virtual girlfriends such as Kari, you can tailor the personality to your liking. On forums users discuss how they’ve dialled up certain traits on their Kari, making her super horny and anti-feminist (these forums make for unsettling reading). But I digress…

When it comes to designing friends, there is a lot of temptation to make designer friends. As in Everything About You, the companions we choose will fulfil our deepest needs, whether they are home-made, idealised, or built like snowmen from the data of people we have lost.

about the book


Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s. 
It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her sister knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

You can purchase Everything About You (Orbit) Here.