This novel is a first person narration by Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson is laid up as the result of an Operation to remove the Jezail bullet he had carried since his Service in Afghanistan. The daughter of a clergyman has asked Holmes to investigate the disappearance of her father on one of the Scottish North Sea islands. As the object of the Reverend's investigation was one of three main source tales for the traditional Cinderella story, one that involved witchcraft and had been denounced by the Established Church, his daughter believed that he might have been taken by devotees of the Mother Goddess for use as a sacrifice at the upcoming Halloween celebrations. Holmes agrees to investigate and sets out for the North coast of Scotland.
On the northbound train he falls in with the young Aleister Crowley and their discussions of Witchcraft, Eastern religions and Holmes' case lead Crowley to offer his services as companion/bodyguard to Holmes for the duration of his investigation. Their discussions make the Author's Historical points by citing examples but they avoid giving a general summary of the details available about the World's oldest surviving Religion. The events that triggered this particular `Ur-Cinderella' variant seem to have occurred in Viking times and to have taken place on an island later noted as a source of `Witches.'
My own acquaintance with what is now called Wicca and its history assure me that its origins go back to and, possibly, before the Neolithic Age. I still recall first reading Robert Graves' "Hercules, My Shipmate" and my astonishment at the Priestesses of The Mother Goddess parching next year's seed grain in a dispute with the Priests of the local Thunder God. The God's reply was traditional, as, in visions to his priests, he encouraged the men to go a-raiding to find loot to buy food. Mr. Revill's characters cite elements of various worship systems across Eurasia that seem to echo worship of the Mother Goddess. In fact, the same tenets remain with us to this day cloaked in the guise of "green" practices with all of the `religious' elements removed, except, perhaps, the ardor.
Holmes, in this book, uses a prose style that is spare and simple. It is not the same voice that we hear in The Canon when Holmes is dictating. It is possible that difference from the Canon might well be due to the efforts of the Literary Agent on the Canon. In any case, this Holmes is inclined to discuss philosophy and his personal views much more than in previous publications. He is also less prone to descriptions and to pontificating and belittling the efforts of the police. Maybe it is the presence of Crowley, a public non-Christian, who would not be offended by Holmes' Atheism following his studies in Tibet that encourages Holmes to open his thoughts more to his audience. Watson, of course, would have been shocked to the core of his Established Church soul.
Perhaps 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. Secrets abound within secrets and there are several secretive movements at odds with one another. The Nineteenth Century is dying before it really had a chance to enter into the lives of the Island and the twentieth Century is banging on the door loudly demanding entry. Meanwhile, all involved are still trying to untangle the problems of the Tenth Century.
This book is deceptive. A reader may expect some descent into barbarism and mumbo-jumbo or a tale of horror and madness. Instead, one finds people coping with inherited Cultural positions and striving for control (`Power' is such a Nasty word) over their lives. The same conflicts that arose at the very dawn of History are alive and kicking. People are still only people and lives are taken, altered and enriched by the oddest trifles and strangest events. Over all there remains the story of Cinderella, told from the viewpoint of the `wicked stepmother.' 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.
Reviewed by: Philip K. Jones, November 2011