I have made a little Pinterest album of images of things and people that figure (or are referred to) in the novel. Here you may see not only Holmes and Crowley, but also (for example) their hotel, a mutoscope, the Battle of Abu Klea, the Prince of Wales, and an actress in a ‘breeches part’. Readers may like to have a look and see how their mental images match up to reality. If there are any pictures that readers would like to see added to the album, please let me know!
THERE’S no denying that Aleister Crowley has rather a poor reputation, which means that, if he turns up in a piece of Holmesian fiction, he’s far more likely to be cast as the villain than as one of the good guys. The dastardly Lord Blackwood, for example, in the first of the R. D. J. movies, was acknowledged to be based on Crowley. In modern books, too, he’s often the villain: one thinks of The Case of the Philosopher’s Ring, by Randall Collins, or The Breath of God, by Guy Adams, which came out simultaneously with my own book. So it might seem strange to cast Crowley as a heroic comrade-in-arms of Sherlock Holmes.
Nevertheless, that’s what I did in A Case of Witchcraft; and most reviewers seem to have enjoyed it. The new Amazon review from Chip Auman, for example, which is headed “Excellent Read—New Partner for Holmes,” reads in full: “Two things stand out in this novel: (1) an interesting new sidekick for Holmes and (2) an excellent lesson in the historical roots of the pagan ‘religion’ now known as ‘Witchcraft.’
The author Portia Costa agrees that “the young Aleister Crowley makes a frisky alternative sidekick”; while for Fiona Wright “it is the relationship between the two men [Holmes and Crowley] that forms the heart of” the book. On the whole, people have been saying that they like the Crowley character and find him believable.
However, some have taken a different view. Mike Rush, on Amazon U.K., for example, says: “somehow I doubt that the real Crowley would have been such a willing follower of Holmes’s lead,” while Jennifer Uzzell’s review states as a “fact” that “Crowley is not always entirely believable”; and, in a private communication, Ms. Uzzell has explained that she would have expected him to be more arrogant, cynical, and self-centred.
Well, the thing is, this story is set in 1899, when Crowley was still a young man. When one reads his autobiographical “Confessions”, one discovers that he had as a boy a great devotion to his father; and that, as a young man, he was capable of transferring that devotion to other older men whom he respected as experts in their field—I’m thinking particularly of the mountaineer Oscar Eckenstein and the wizard MacGregor Mathers, who were both men of Holmes’s generation, born in the 1850’s, and thus old enough to be Crowley’s father.
Therefore it strikes me as entirely in keeping with Crowley’s known character that he would be a faithful and obedient assistant to Holmes in the circumstances of this story. The action lasts less than a week from start to finish; I’m sure that Crowley could have managed to be good for that length of time. Whatever his peculiarities, he was an English gentleman, after all; and, for the biggest part of the story, being good mainly involved spooning with Lizzie and smoking loads of dope. He didn’t have a hard job to do, except at the very end: and then he was able to rise to the occasion magnificently.
Is that realistic? There’s no doubt that the historical Crowley was brave and impulsive at this age, as his daring climbing exploits show, so I find it easy to imagine him doing the kind of thing that he does in my final chapter. Remember, he knew that it would cause many desirable young women to think fondly of him, which is a powerful motivating factor for a young man.
The older Crowley—i.e. the Crowley that most of us know about—is another matter. After he became the Prophet of Thelema one never hears of him being devoted and obedient to an older man again; after that Crowley was the father-figure, who expected people to be devoted to him, as tends to be the case with gurus. I can imagine that more ponderous fellow reckoning his holy Prophet’s life as of more value than that of the threatened woman. In any case, he’d have been so out of shape as to have had no chance of saving her even if he’d tried! So the Prophet of Thelema would not have done it, I agree; but I feel sure that the young Crowley of my novel’s date would have. He had the physique, he had the foolhardiness, and he was full of testosterone.
I based the character chiefly on what Crowley says about his younger self in the “Confessions.” Naturally, this is Crowley seen through a sympathetic eye; but a sympathetic eye is not necessarily wrong. Indeed, in Crowley’s case, one feels that he is on the whole very truthful in his account of himself. The only things in that book that I don’t believe are most of the supernatural phenomena, which I think that he has written up imaginatively and sometimes invented altogether. The demons that he saw in his flat strike me as a drug-induced hallucination, for example, while that strange light which he and Rose observed in the Great Pyramid seems like a complete fabrication. But I do believe what he says about himself as a young man in the 80’s and the 90’s: and that’s what the character in my book was made to be like. So to me it’s as true as it could be.
What do my readers think? Is my portrait of Mr. A. C. an accurate one?
Well, dear readers, it’s been a while, but there is at last something to blog about: a new and detailed review of the novel has appeared on the Well-Read Sherlockian site. Do click the link and have a look if you have a spare five minutes. Although the reviewer, Ms. Guinn, is a Christian, she is intelligent, and pretty fair-minded about my rather un-Christian book.
All that I’d really want to argue with is her closing remarks. She speaks of “occasional sinister portents that ultimately went nowhere.” Now, I know the book rather well, and I can’t remember anything of the sort — unless she was thinking of Holmes’s nightmare on the train in Chapter II, which was not intended to be prophetic (although it may be interpreted along Freudian lines). Ms. Guinn also wonders why, “concerned as Emily Tollemache was about her father, she did not accompany Holmes to actually find him.” To me the answer seems rather obvious: in the first place the journey would have been expensive, and she was, as she says, “quite poor”; in the second place it might well have been dangerous, and she was just a wussy Victorian girl. I don’t mean to say that women can’t be heroic; only that young ladies of Miss Tollemache’s class weren’t expected to be, and that many of them, as a consequence, weren’t.
All in all, though, a jolly good review, for which I’m grateful!
If you’ve read the book, and enjoyed it, why not give a copy to a friend or two? It makes a handsome present for Hallowe’en or for Yule.
I just received this review from the lovely Joanna, on Goodreads, and it made me smile.
This book is so completely awesome. Erudite was a word another reviewer used, which is the one word I would use to describe the book if I couldn’t use “awesome.”
It’s not for purists. Firstly, Watson’s barely in it. Secondly, the subject matter is a little bit more uh… edgy? than what I assume would be traditional. Witchcraft, a little bit of sex (though not explicit, I think), drugs, religious discussion. I mean, it does have Aleister Crowley in it as the Watson subsitute, ha. This novel shakes up beliefs about Sherlock Holmes… which makes it sound “merely clever” but I assure you it is not. It reads like the work of an intelligent person passionate about sharing a story with you, as opposed to a person passionate about showing you how clever they are. Which sucks if they are not as clever as they think they are. heh. Still, if you are a purist this novel is probably blasphemous. I personally find it sacrilicious :p
From today, a new version of the novel is available, from MX at least (it may take a little while for the product to reach other retailers). I have corrected two or three grammatical mistakes and made a few improvements to the text. If you have already bought the book, you might like to know what these changes involve.
Let me see. In Chapter I, the details of the sleeper-train to Edinburgh that Holmes catches are now given precisely: it is the 9.30 from St. Pancras. I like that kind of specificity, don’t you? It makes the story seem more real. But I only recently discovered how the trains were running back then, so I couldn’t put it in the story until now.
In the scene where we first hear tell of the Cathedral Archivist, from Sergeant Flett in the Police Station, for some reason I miswrote his name as ‘Bailey’; it was, of course, Balfour, as many readers will remember. The error is now corrected. Lizzie’s surname is also restored from ‘Grey’ to what it should have been all along: McCoy. (Using the ‘replace’ button at such a time is hazardous; one is likely to be left with references to the popular song ‘Goodbye, Dolly McCoy,’ or even with the description of ‘a cold McCoy morning’; but I trust that I have avoided such pitfalls.)
Chapter XII, which is the second part of the story about what happened in the Reign of the Crow, is now entitled: ‘The End of the Tale.’ I imagined that some readers would be anxious by this point, thinking: ‘How long is this story going to last? When do we get back to the main plot?’ So it seems fair to reassure them that the story will go on no longer than one more chapter. Then they can settle down and (I hope) enjoy it.
The remark about the corruption of ‘Tura’ into ‘Thora’ seemed both out of place and obvious, so I have omitted it. The description of what happened at the witches’ meetings has been made a little clearer and more explicit. The second of the patterns drawn by Lizzie over the breakfast-table is slightly different, and more powerful. I feel that I cut the description a little short last time, and missed a vital part of the design out. The conical hat on the little girls’ witch-effigy was a mistake, and is gone.
Most significantly, the final dialogue between Holmes and Watson is extended a little, both by a discussion of the possible future for witchcraft, with Watson suggesting that it might appeal to medical students; and by some discussion about the unresolved injustice of this case: the suppression of Mr. Tollemache’s book. Holmes offers a possible solution to the latter problem: he proposes to hire a poor scholar to go to Trowley and complete Tollemache’s project as best he can; the results to be published at Holmes’s expense, as a memorial to the dead man. Watson thinks this an admirable assignment for someone. Whom does Holmes propose to send? You may be able to guess the answer to that, my friends. It is rather a satisfying twist in the tale.
There is also one change that I thought of making, but didn’t, although I do think that what I was going to write is true in the world of the story. As a writer one knows a lot more about the story-world and its people than one actually writes down. The method of narrative is omission: leaving out a lot of stuff that doesn’t further the story. One fact that I omitted was that, when Holmes was considering attending the party, near the end of the story, part of his motivation was to learn the Pictish name of the Goddess, and compare it to the one that he already knew from the Sudan. In the end I thought that little fact about Holmes to be superfluous to the flow of my narrative; but it is quite interesting, and I’m happy to share it with whoever reads this blog.
I have been correcting a few typographical errors and the like, and consider that it might be as well to put in a little word of warning at the start of the book. The thing is that, while most reviews have been good, some people have read it and complained that it didn’t read like the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. One of them, a Mr. Handspicker, even called it “a bad pastiche, but…. a pretty good story.” So perhaps it’s worth warning prospective readers that this isn’t actually a pastiche, but an attempt to do something different with the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes.
I thought something like the following might do. What do my readers think?
THE BOOK which you are holding is indeed (as its title-page declares) ‘a novel of Sherlock Holmes’, but it is not a pastiche—which is to say that it was not composed in imitation of the canonical narratives supposedly written by Dr. Watson. The Doctor plays little part in this story, and the point of view throughout is that of Sherlock Holmes himself.
This story shows Holmes as a real man, living in the real world of late Victorian Britain, and it contains much that Dr. Watson would have considered unsuitable for publication: conversations about sex, philosophy, and politics, for example—not to mention a dénouement which would have seemed too disturbing for Victorian readers, and may still have the power to shock.
Read the following pages expecting the familiar style of Dr. Watson’s narratives, and you will be disappointed; read them without such expectations, and you may find, as did one perceptive reviewer, that they provide “a new insight into the most private recesses of the mind of Sherlock Holmes.”
A couple of months ago I was anxiously wondering what reviewers would have to say about my Sherlock Holmes novel, A Case of Witchcraft. Now I’ve had quite a few reviews, and I’m happy to say that they have been mostly rather good.
There seems to be a general consensus that the protagonist of my novel is a good likeness of the Canonical Sherlock Holmes. Jaime N. Mahoney, for example, says: “Joe Revill creates a Sherlock Holmes who is every inch the logical, rational, deductive mind that readers want and expect” and “in A Case of Witchcraft, Sherlock Holmes is still, first and foremost, the detective that readers know and love”. Likewise, Susmita Chatto, of The Bookbag, says that the book “brings us the Holmes we love very quickly, instantly recognisable with his usual acerbic wit and attractive peculiarities”, and “provides us with a new insight into the most private recesses of the mind of Sherlock Holmes”. The Booksmonthly reviewer says that “Revill’s imagery and characterisation are superb, and capture Holmes as Conan Doyle had him”.
I did, of course, explore the question of Holmes’s sexuality (or lack thereof) rather more explicitly than is the case in the Canon; and some people like this, while others do not. The Booksmonthly reviewer considers that such things were “left alone by Doyle for good reason”; and the generally sympathetic Ms. Mahoney says: “Hesketh Pearson maintained that readers want to know more about Sherlock Holmes, but Revill makes the reader wonder how much the reader really wants to know, if it is not better to have a divider between the Sherlock Holmes of Dr. Watson’s stories, and the Sherlock Holmes of a harsher reality.” On the other hand, the pseudonymous Literary Fox, on Amazon.co.uk, thinks this aspect of the novel “interesting”, and “thoroughly modern”; while in his own Amazon review, Matt Laffey, of Always 1895, considers that I conduct the exploration “maturely and respectfully” and “to the benefit of the narrative, all the while maintaining a canonical clarity which never forces the reader to question the author’s motivations for breaching canonically quasi-taboo subject matter.”
People generally seem to like my novel’s characters. Ms. Mahoney says that “The cast of characters in A Case of Witchcraft are at turns compelling, menacing, comical, and flamboyant”, adding that “Every character in the novel appears to have a unique role to play, and they do so intensely, no matter how briefly they are on the page.” Literary Fox says that I “create full and believable characterisations”, while another Amazon reviewer, Firefox C., enjoys “the interplay of character” in the book. Philip K. Jones (alias “The Ill-Dressed Vagabond”) is kind enough to say that “the most singular feature of this book is its interesting characters. All of the people depicted present strong and impressive personalities to the world. From the local Detective Sergeant to the Schoolmistress and from the Island Provost to the waitress at a Fish and Chips store, all are distinct, interesting and individual people.” I like them all, too, and I’m glad that my readers feel the same!
The partnership between Holmes and Aleister Crowley was bound to be controversial, given the understandable affection that readers have for Dr. Watson, and the rather dubious reputation which Crowley acquired in later life. I like Dr. Watson too, of course; but I thought that it would be interesting, for once, to see Holmes building a relationship with someone else, to whom he could reveal different aspects of himself. I am glad to see from the reviews that many of my readers agreed. Ms. Mahoney tells us that “Crowley proves a worthy companion to Sherlock Holmes.” FireFox C. says “Holmes’s relationship with Crowley is an interesting twist and offers some fascinating dialogue between two men of powerful intellect and unconventional views.” Ms. Chatto, of The Bookbag, makes the perceptive comment that “Crowley is painted with flair and character and Holmes’s observations of him are in themselves a window into Holmes’s personality.” Matt Laffey has told me in an e-mail that he enjoyed the partnership so much that “I found myself wishing that Aleister Crowley went on more than just one Holmes adventure; honestly it’s a thought I would have never even imagined possible (that is, Holmes + Crowley, back2back!)”
People also seem to enjoy the descriptions in the novel. Ms. Mahoney says that “Revill has done his research in writing this book, and his knowledge comes across in the details—the manner in which he describes food (I have never read a Sherlock Holmes novel with such a lovely, though lengthy, description of cheese), clothing, local and period customs, and settings, particularly architecture. His depiction of Trowley is atmospheric, vivid, and fully-formed.” Ms. Chatto remarks “Revill provides a great deal of attention to detail, from scene-setting to the inclusion of items with which the reader has familiarity in ordinary daily life – Heinz Baked Beans being one example! His descriptive talents are clear as he evokes a Victorian world, and creates scenes of sorcery with vivid imagination.” Firefox C. says “I found the imagery and period detail rich and imaginatively satisfying”, while Literary Fox calls the novel “rich in detail of dress and manners of the period… lending the work a depth of historical realism.”
One thing that baffles me a little is that a couple of critics have found the novel’s philosophical discussions rather modern: Literary Fox says “The Holmes character retains the analytical, problem-solving mind of the original but the philosophical discussions central to the novel are as much 21st century as 19th”; and, perhaps picking up on this, the Booksmonthly reviewer says “Whilst retaining the 19th century flavour of Holmes, Revill attempts to engage some 21st century philosophy”. I really don’t understand this, as it seems to me that all the discussions are very much of their time: the kind of conversations that educated Britons might well have had at the end of the 19th century. Perhaps what is meant is that these discussions of late-Victorian problems are still relevant to us in the modern world. I certainly think that’s true: some things haven’t changed.
So, on the whole, people seem to have liked my book. Matt Laffey calls it “well-written, fun to read, exciting… risk-taking but erudite, challenging yet satisfying”! To Dr. Dan Andriacco, “It’s a thoroughly researched tale of bewitching witches that comes to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.” To the Booksmonthly reviewer, it is “a superior offering” and an “excellent pastiche.” Firefox C. finds it to be “A worthy re-imagining”, and Literary Fox considers it a “Stimulating, satisfying and enjoyable read.” Most gratifyingly of all, the “Ill-Dressed Vagabond” says: “It is a sharp and cogent tale, not just a case from Late Victorian times, but also a microcosm of large parts of Human History.”
I think that I shall write another one!