A Case of Witchcraft

This blog is an extension of the book of the same name: a novel published by MX, available on the Net and through bookshops.

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What I thought about “The Abominable Bride.”

I LIKED it!–but I’d have liked it even better if they’d done it as a straight Victorian adventure rather than making it a dream of the modern-day Sherlock, which didn’t really make sense or significantly advance our understanding of the Moriarty case. In my opinion Mycroft’s eating disorder was treated somewhat distastefully, and the metafictional discussions about Mrs. Hudson’s narrative function, &c., were a little jarring. The canonical characters wouldn’t talk like that, and I don’t see why the figments of Sherlock’s imagination would do so; he’s never read the Conan Doyle stories, since they don’t exist in his universe.

There were some things that were strikingly reminiscent of “Heaven Sent,” didn’t you think? The horrifying bride herself, of course, and the hero taking a very high dive as the only way out of a desperate situation. The Maze as well, so like the labyrinth on Gallifrey with its gliding ghosts! I’m not complaining: I rather enjoyed those parallels. I suspect they give us a glimpse into the author’s nightmares.

On the whole I’d give it seven and a half or eight out of ten, because it was good but it could have been better. For quite a bit of its running time it looked like a real Victorian Sherlock Holmes story, and gave us an idea of how well Moffat & co. could do a real Sherlock Holmes series if they weren’t so hung-up on being surprising and innovative for its own sake. That’s Moffat’s besetting sin, if you ask me–it ruined the later episodes of “Coupling” and it ruined most of Matt Smith’s tenure as Doctor Who; but as far as I was concerned it didn’t quite ruin “The Abominable Bride.”


I am the author of ‘A Case of Witchcraft,’ a Victorian gothic thriller in which Sherlock Holmes meets Aleister Crowley. The review that I like best of it is this one (from a total stranger on the other side of the world):

‘A Case of Witchcraft is one of the best pastiches I have read, and it is right now my favorite. It is incredibly erudite and clever, but never loses focus on characterization and plot. I don’t think I have read many books that can balance that, honestly. I was entertained the whole way through.’

Don’t forget, dear readers, that “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site.

Our American cousins may buy it here.

“A Case of Witchcraft” — Illustrated!

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!

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

A New Review.

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!

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

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.

Something that Made Me Smile.

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

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

A New and Slightly Improved Version of the Novel.

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.

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

A Preface to the Revised Version.

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.”

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

What Reviewers Have Said About My Book.

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!

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.

Aleister Crowley’s Witchcraft Connexion.

It is generally accepted that the writings of Aleister Crowley were a major influence on the Witchcraft Revival which began soon after his death in 1947. Gerald Gardner, the founding father of that Revival, had four long meetings with Crowley in the last months of his life, and used many extracts from his works in the rituals of what came to be known as Wicca.

There is a certain appropriateness in this, since ancient Witchcraft was essentially Goddess-worship, and Crowley was one of the most enthusiastic Goddess-worshippers of recent times. But was he actually a Witch? That is, did he learn his Goddess-worship from members of a shadowy cult which could trace its lineage back to pre-history? It would be very surprising if this were so, since all the evidence would suggest that the ancient cult of the Goddess became extinct in England in the fourteenth century (although it may have lasted a little longer in Scotland). Nevertheless, there are some stories which suggest that Crowley may have been personally acquainted with at least one Witch in the days of his youth.

The learned historian of the occult, Francis King, records in Chapter 21 of his Ritual Magic in England (1970), a conversation that he had had in 1953 with Louis Umfraville Wilkinson, a close friend of Crowley’s (and one of his literary executors).

“… he said that Crowley had told him that, as a young man, he had been offered initiation into the witch-cult, but had refused it because he didn’t want to be ‘bossed around by women.’”

In a footnote, King tells us that he had heard the same story about Crowley from “two independent sources” (which unfortunately he does not name).

Professor Ronald Hutton has found evidence in unpublished documents that Gerald Yorke heard a similar story in December 1953, from a member of Gerald Gardner’s coven (probably Doreen Valiente); in this version, however, Crowley had actually been initiated, and spent a short time as a member of a coven, but left because he “would not be ruled by women.” [The Triumph of the Moon, Chapter 11.] The ultimate source of this story was almost certainly Gerald Gardner himself, for in his book Witchcraft Today, published in 1954, he tells us:

“The only man I can think of who could have invented the rites was the late Aleister Crowley. When I met him he was most interested to hear that I was a member [of the Witch-cult], and said he had been inside when he was very young…”

(Some of my readers may be familiar with the more elaborate version of the story told by Bill Liddell, in the articles collected as The Pickingill Papers; but as Mr. Liddell’s work is generally recognized to be fanciful, I shall say no more of it here.)

So is there any truth in these stories? The chief objection would appear to be that in Crowley’s very frank autobiography, written in the late 1920’s, he says nothing about such a youthful encounter with Witchcraft. But perhaps he kept silent in order to protect the reputation of someone still alive; or perhaps (if he had been initiated) he considered himself still bound by an oath of secrecy taken thirty or so years earlier. It is noteworthy that he seems to have spoken about the incident only when he was very old, and even then did not specify the names of the people involved, or the place where they had lived.

It is of course entirely possible that if Crowley told this story he was (as Francis King suggests) “indulging in a gentle leg-pull”; yet the tantalizing possibility remains that young Aleister did encounter, somewhere in late-Victorian Britain, people who were coming together to practice the rites of Witchcraft – either as a genuine survival of the ancient cult, or as a modern revival, something like Gardner’s Wicca. When and where might such a meeting have taken place? What form might late-Victorian Witchcraft have taken, and how might it have affected Crowley?

In my novel, A Case of Witchcraft, I supply fictional answers to these questions. I do not assert that the things in my story happened, but that they are the kind of thing that might have happened — which is all that one can ask of fiction!

Don’t forget, dear readers, that the paperback of “A Case of Witchcraft” is available here on the British Amazon site; and the Kindle version here.

Our American cousins may buy the paperback here, and the Kindle version here.