The Arcanum by Thomas Wheeler

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I seem to have missed this one when published earlier this year: “The Arcanum” by Thomas Wheeler, published April 27, 2004, by Bantam…

Clive Barker seems to have liked it: “THE ARCANUM is a first-class thriller; superbly crafted, it moves like lightning, creating a world where historical fact and wild invention are interwoven. Marvellous stuff!”…
Publisher’s Weekly was less impressed:

In screenwriter Wheeler’s cinematic debut novel, an occult thriller set in New York City in 1919, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his fellow members of a secret society known as the Arcanum – “including magician Harry Houdini and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau” – investigate a gruesome murder, rescue horror writer H.P. Lovecraft from jail, consult evil mystic Aleister Crowley, learn the truth behind the ancient Book of Enoch, try to solve the mystery of a tribe of lost angels and otherwise save the world.

All the supernatural shenanigans, however, can’t disguise that these characters, with their contemporary sensibilities, are crude caricatures of their real-life originals. Lovecraft, for example, is reduced to a perverse boyish demonologist, while Laveau is a sexpot who speaks in a Caribbean patois: “So, how we s’posed to get him outta that jail?”

Each vividly written chapter is so obviously a film scene that credit should be given for art direction. The author uses nearly every landmark available in 1919 New York for a setting, but a wealth of well-researched period detail is no substitute for a true feeling for an era’s zeitgeist. Those seeking thought-provoking “secret history” would do better to turn to the fiction of Tim Powers (Last Call) or Alexander C. Irvine (A Scattering of Jades).

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