Book review: Dark Touch by Debbie Johnson

Dark Touch
Dark Touch
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Doc Martens may not be standard footwear for the Mother of Mortals, but for a sassy Scouse goddess, the heavy-duty size sixes come in handy for kicking seven shades of hell out of creatures from the pit.

Essential wearing then for Debbie Johnson’s wisecracking Lily McCain, who is back with her oddball entourage of mystic eccentrics including champion Carmel, High King and mate Gabriel, pet vampire Luca and Irish death and war deity the Morrigan, who will morph into a crow as soon as look at you – or sooner.

The earth goddess incarnate, surrounded as she is by this host of mythic minders, should be prepared for anything the underworld can throw at her. She isn’t, of course, and what follows is a thrilling, chilling, funny and sometimes thought-provoking caper through Liverpool and New York.

Johnson just gets better. Dark Touch is the sequel to Dark Vision and takes us to a completely different level. The writing is assured, the storytelling tight and the characters fully and realistically developed.

With a deft touch, she weaves a compelling and often moving tale of magic and mayhem, wit and wisdom and love and loss. For rebellious Lily the transition from boozing Liverpool pop columnist to the earthly incarnation of Celtic fertility goddess Mabe hasn’t been an easy one and her continuing battle with her fate has had tragic consequences.

Dark Touch sees Lily and fellow hack Carmel finally growing up and into their new roles – but the road proves long and bitter. On the way, however, they have shed-loads of fun, meet a host of immortals, including a spear-toting valkyrie from Asgaard and a lion-faced Egyptian divinity with a third eye, and confront a monster from the birth of time while dealing with the sneaky Donn, Lord of the Dead, who, despite his penchant for lap dancers, has the odd trick or two hidden up his funereal sleeve.

Johnson has a high old time with Celtic mythology, successfully mixing ancient and modern for a fun-filled fusion fizzing with energy while making the reader believe in a land of the blessed waiting on the far side of, presumably, the Mersey.

But it’s not all play. Johnson equally skilfully shines a light into the human psyche’s shadowlands, leading to some troubling scenes in which the cry of the innocent sounds loud and clear – and plucks painfully at the heartstrings.

(Del Rey, paperback, £7.99)