Fiction Reviews

Silent Key

(2023) Laurel Hightower, Flame Tree Press, £12.95 / Can$21.95 / US$16.95, pbk, 297pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58854-7


After the loss of her husband under mysterious circumstances, former detective Cam Ambrose learns how little she truly knew him. Reeling with the grief of her loss and the realization that the man she loved was a stranger, she must learn how to keep her young daughter safe from a world of the supernatural she never knew existed. With the help of her best friend Dimi and reclusive neighbour Eric Morgan, she sets out to solve a decades-old mystery entangling the machinations of an obsessed killer, her husband’s mistress, and a series of deadly hauntings.

This is the second novel from Laurel Hightower following the 2018 publication of Whispers in the Dark. Since then she has produced two novellas – 'Crossroads' and 'Below' and contributed to various anthologies. More power to Flame Tree Press and also, Titan Books, for publishing new (to us) horror writers from all the world, and I’m pleased to say that Silent Key is my sort of book, no thirty-page long chapters here. The book is only 297 pages long, and starts with a short Q and A with Hightower where she talks about the inspiration for the novel, her writing process, who should play the lead characters in a film of the book, and what she is up to next. Then we are into the prologue and 70 chapters followed by an epilogue, making for a pacy, page-turning read, although it is a moot point whether or not the plot steamrollers over the characters at times.

Hightower certainly knows how to drive a plot and also how to mash-up her genres. Here, we have a story that is part-supernatural novel, part-horror, mystery, police procedural and romance as we follow Cam Ambrose after the gruesome death of her husband, Tony. His body was horribly disfigured after he was crushed – somehow – in a New York street right in front of his mistress, which comes as a surprise to Cam. The fact that he had been cheating on her, and this was revealed so abruptly is a shock, but not as shocking as his death especially as it is so bizarre and unexplained.

Also unexplained are the visions her daughter, Sammy, starts seeing, leaving her no choice but to put New York behind them and seek refuge in the countryside at her late uncle’s ranch, except the things that her daughter sees, won’t let her go. Cam needs to make a stand and use her detective skills to investigate her husband’s secret lifestyle and his involvement with the supernatural which has also involved their daughter, and it doesn’t take long for Sammy to start seeing the ghost of her father.

Cam is an interesting, complex character with her own demons, damaged by her time being in the police, even having to have her best friend, Dimi, with her. Dimi might be her best friend and like a brother to her, but in reality he is a former Russian gangster and also her bodyguard, but can a hardened criminal keep Cam and Sammy safe from supernatural threats? Moving to the country might have seemed like a great idea, but Cam begins to suspect that her uncle didn’t die from natural causes and they may have gone from the frying pan into the fire.

Silent Key is a great mash-up of different genres, full of well-drawn characters, dropped into a fast-moving plot with some thrills and spills and a fair dose of frights ranging from feelings of dread and unease to full blown jump scares. You have been warned.

Ian Hunter


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 24.1.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]