Excerpt: The Golden Key by Marian Womack
The BiblioSanctum is pleased to be participating in the tour for The Golden Key by Marian Womack, a suspenseful and atmospheric debut crime-fantasy novel set in Victorian England! Today we are sharing an exciting excerpt from the book, available now from Titan Books wherever books are sold. Check it out, and be sure to also visit the other stops on the tour!
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.
Excerpt from The Golden Key by Marian Womack, published by Titan Books. Copyright © 2020 by Marian Womack
Sam’s arrival in London coincided with the first signs of Christmas. Little lights charmed passers-by from behind cloudy shop windows, and Albert trees sprouted here and there. The festivities welcomed him with their air of a season out of time, and came and went quickly; a sad, subdued affair.
‘Samuel, my boy. The only thing we ought to concern ourselves with is your health. I have instructed Mrs Brown to provide for your every need.’ Sam’s godfather, Charles Bale, had a house in Saffron Hill Road, a large number of friends associated with the Spiritualist cause, and too much time on his hands. His robust disposition, cheerful eyes and fondness for amusing company were at odds with his prominent position in one of those societies occupied with exploring the darkest corners of our universe. Bale was one of the most senior members of The New Occultist Defence League, funded some years previously to ‘defend those interested in Spiritual communion from the misunderstanding or aggravation caused by the non-Spiritualist-minded’. Showing a rare delicacy, the older man had not been inquisitive about the tragic accident that had brought Sam to his door. He had asked no questions, and demanded no answers. And so Sam had the chance to gather his breath. London, even if looked out upon from a window, did not look back at him with reproach: a welcome change. College life lay behind him, forever gone. He was capable of admitting that much to himself.
A few weeks after Sam’s arrival, the Queen’s passing changed the mood of the capital once more. To his godfather’s delight, advertisements now kept sprouting everywhere for lectures on Mesmerism in working men’s clubs, or for assemblies and raffles to gather funds for séances. Victoria’s death had suddenly rekindled the interest in their dusty cause: most of the papers proclaimed new ghostly sightings and bewildering phenomena, usually involving the departed monarch.
‘Who knows?’ Charles took to saying with a smile. ‘Her Majesty may, even now, be looking at us from The Beyond.’
Most visitors to Saffron Hill Road interpreted the black ribbon on Sam’s arm as a mark of respect for Victoria, and he did not set them right. He often heard Charles and his friends discussing what they called the Queen’s ‘promotion’, and admiring the symbolism of her final journey: the crowds in dark mourning, the bright white horses. The monarch had famously made all the preparations herself, in accordance with her well-known interest in the fanfare of death.
Sam avoided seeing the ominous procession. The incident in the river, still an open wound in his mind, meant that he was not in a humour to witness such an event. And then there was the house: the crumbling walls, soft with lichen; the dense silence welcoming him back. At night he turned in bed left and right, until a feverish sleep found him. And what came to his rescue but this ruin, this thing? It was all there again; so unreal, so recognisable, bringing back no memories, but dark premonitions from the past. Then nothing: his mind filled with black water. Sam longed for only one thing: a night of untroubled sleep. It was one of his uncle’s Spiritualist gazettes that proposed the notion, imbued with dark meaning, of what might be happening, bringing to mind at once the ruined house, the river, Viola, as a melange of connected possibilities:
TWENTIETH-CENTURY CURE. MAGNETISM IS LIFE!
WRITE AT ONCE.
ALL SUFFERERS FROM LOSS OF MEMORY, SADNESS, AND ALL NERVOUS AILMENTS, INCLUDING SLEEP ILLNESSES
Sleep illness. Could that be his affliction?
What he needed wasn’t a cure for his nightmares, but a potion to help him forget. He knew people who had wandered down to the canalside in Oxford, where the slow Chinese barges sometimes came up from London. They had spoken to him of medicines that could calm the busiest brain, but for some reason he had always rejected these out of hand. What he ought to do was give himself over to the dedicated task of changing the fog inside his head for the London fog, like a self-induced trance. But he wondered: would he be able to do that alone, or would he need a light to guide him? Samuel Moncrieff felt irrevocably lost, for the first time in his life.
Marian Womack is a bilingual writer, born in Andalusia and raised in the UK. She is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop and the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University. She works for Cambridge University libraries, and her professional background is in academic libraries, having worked at Glasgow University Library and the Bodleian. Whilst living in Spain, Marian worked as a translator, desk editor, fiction publisher, and bookseller. She now lives in Cambridge, UK. She tweets @beekeepermadrid.