Monday, April 11, 2011

The Arcanum

The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler

Plunge into an age when genius and madness walked hand in hand. The year is 1919 and the Great War has come to a close. But in the shadows of the world’s major cities, the killing has just begun. In this perilous time, as the division between order and chaos grows increasingly slim, a select group of visionaries have sworn to vanquish evil and ensure the safety of humanity. They are Harry Houdini, the world’s greatest magician; notorious voodoo princess Marie Laveau; weird-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft; and the ingenious Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Together, they are known as The Arcanum.

--The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler, Copyright ©2004 by Thomas Wheeler, published by Bantam Books

My Review

The year is 1919, the place is London, England, and Konstantine Duvall has died, hit by a drunk driver. An accident, the police say. There was a horrible fog around the London Museum, the driver couldn’t see, the man shouldn’t have been walking in the street.

But Konstantin Duvall was no ordinary man, and when the great writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learns of his death, he fears the worst. For Duvall was the keeper of a great number of secrets and one of those secrets is lost. The Book of Enoch, a “lost” book of the Bible, was in Duvall’s care and now it is missing. Doyle must find it, and quickly.

He travels to New York City to reunite his friends, Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, Marie Laveau (fortunately, she heeded her own visions and traveled to New York, saving Doyle a trip to Louisiana), the former members of the Arcanum, Investigators of the Extraordinary, to find the book. But it’s not as simple as he’d like it to be, for there are others who covet the book and would use it for their own purposes.

A great evil is stirring in New York and the Arcanum quickly find themselves enmeshed in it. Can they all survive, can they all remain sane, to see their great task through to the end?

I loved the premise of this story, that these great figures of the early 20th century could be part of some secret society and they would band together to save the world, but as the story progressed, I got more and more bored with it. Had I known the occult would play such a heavy part in the plot, I would never have bought the book (though I suppose Marie Laveau’s name on the back cover should have been a giveaway). Even discounting that element, I found the book difficult to read as the action cut from one character to the other, hosts of new characters are added when it’s convenient to add them (and I couldn’t tell if some of those characters were real people, like Aleister Crowley, or made up for the story, like Darian DeMarcus), and places and events I’m unfamiliar with are discussed. If you’re a historian familiar with this time in history, perhaps you would have an easier time following the action. I got lost so many times I nearly gave up on this book half way through. But I persisted and finished.

I will say I do like how it ended, with Lovecraft putting one over on Crowley and the others elevating Lovecraft’s status. Well done you, Howard.

There are a number of laudable quotes on the back and just inside the front cover, so obviously this book has an audience. I, unfortunately, should never have been a member of that audience.

I give this story ONE STAR.

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