The ghosts of the past follow a bereaved policewoman
in this outstanding genre-bending horror novel
Since Laurel Hightower’s excellent debut novel Whispers in the Dark appeared back in 2018 her fiction has continued to impress with subsequent novellas Crossroads (2020) and Below (2022). However, Silent Key might well be her strongest work yet, and is completely unique to those earlier pieces, except for the recurring theme of loss which she frequently returns to, bringing a raw personal edge to her fiction. It is fantastic to see this highly original and startling novel being picked up Flame Tree Press, a publisher who has a great eye for high quality fiction and Silent Key sits comfortably with the best they have released over the last few years. Big genre names such as Josh Malerman have already been purring about this terrific novel and rightly so.
I knew absolutely nothing about Silent Key when I first opened the pages and this undoubtedly made it a much richer reading experience as I did not have the faintest idea of the direction in which it was heading. If you were to reveal to an innocent bystander what this novel was about it would sound completely and utterly batshit crazy, a bizarre blend of fantasy and even science fiction, but dropped within the confines of the story was pitch perfect. Hold onto your hat for some massive revelations being dropped in the second half of the wildly unpredictable story.
With Silent Key I would be wary of spoilers (even the reason it has its name is a spoiler) and the clever change of direction it takes. The action opens with recently retired police detective Cam Ambrose struggling to cope with the death of her fellow policeman husband Tony, who died in horrific and unexplained circumstances. To make things worse Sammy’s five-year-old daughter apparently sees ghosts and combined these are the two main reasons the pair are abandoning their New York home to move to a rural ranch in Texas which was owned by Cam’s uncle who passed away earlier in the year. Quite early in the story Sammy begins to see the ghost of her father and Cam realises that her daughter has been keeping secrets from her (easy to blame the ghost), much of which is revealed deliciously slowly.
For the most part Cam Ambrose is a likable, damaged, and very closed off or guarded character who due to her present circumstances sees suspicion and threats everywhere. This is partially alleviated by the fact that she is accompanied by Dimi, a former Russian gangster who is now a combination of her bodyguard, surrogate brother and best friend. Cam and Dimi bounce off each other well and the relationships between them and Sammy form an important and believable part of the story with the mother troubled and feeling helpless in supporting her struggling daughter.
The plot revolves around what happens when the three arrive in Texas and realise that both their previous troubles and ghosts have followed them. However, it is significantly more complex than this as the plot begins to blend thriller and great action sequences with Cam realising that her uncle’s recent death was every bit as suspicious as her dead husband. Throw into the mix a sympathetic love interest, a fantastic guard dog and a house which is much more than haunted and you have a highly readable and enjoyable horror novel which was dreamed up by an incredibly fertile imagination. If you have never previously sampled Laurel Hightower, Silent Key is a great jumping in point or if you want something shorter Crossroads is a stunner and as bleak as they come. Combined they show the versatility of a terrific writer.
Silent Key by Laurel Hightower
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 neighbor 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.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the imprint of long-standing Independent Flame Tree Publishing, dedicated to full-length original fiction in the horror and suspense, science fiction & fantasy, and crime / mystery / thriller categories. The list brings together fantastic new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices. Learn more about Flame Tree Press at www.flametreepress.com and connect on social media @FlameTreePress.