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The Devil's Paintbrush [Hardcover]

Jake Arnott
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 May 2009
Paris, 1903. Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald, one of the greatest heroes of the British Empire, is facing ruin in a shocking homosexual scandal when he meets the notorious occultist, Aleister Crowley. As they set out into the night on a wild journey through the sinful city, the story of Macdonald's tragedy begins to unfold - with startling revelations both for the General and the aspiring magician.
In a tale that ranges from the battlefields of Sudan to the backstreets of Edinburgh, Jake Arnott brings alive a fascinating, forgotten figure of history, and a world trembling on the brink of a brutal new era. Black magic, Baden-Powell and Islamic revolution are just some of the ingredients in this bold and exhilarating novel, which explores imperialism, sexuality and the very nature of belief with an immediacy that resonates into the present.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (28 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340922702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340922705
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 561,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Brilliantly expansive and original' (Daily Mirror)

'A consummate performance...a virtuoso work of near history, with the occasional in-joke thrown in for good measure...immensely enjoyable' (Guardian)

'A big departure for Arnott but a surprisingly successful one. It's a great read full of compassion, humour and riveting detail.' (Sunday Express)

'Arnott is clearly having fun here...So to combine that with how the necessity to be good - to be a hero - can be as suffocating a pressure as battling with occultist demons makes The Devil's Paintbrush a fine book' (Metro)

'Arnott's great leap forward...This is a book about magick, personal tragedy, imperial war, the sexual drive, the nature of faith and where it can lead...Arnott tackles all this with a coolness of head and a strength of purpose.' (Herald)

'One of the many pleasures of this skilful book is the maintenance of suspense as to whether in this iteration, with magic and drugs in the mix, of what we know to have happened, will happen...Arnott does not ask us to choose between [Crowley and Macdonald] - but much of the moral force of this excellent book lies in his demonstration that there is, nonetheless, a choice to be made.' (Independent)

Book Description

A stunning historical novel by the bestselling author of THE LONG FIRM.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Robust and enjoyable historical novel 1 July 2009
Arnott, best known for his gay inclusive crime novels "The Long Firm" and "He Kills Coppers," has opted for a change of pace with this historical novel featuring the real life characters Major General Sir Hector Macdonald and occultist Aliester Crowley, "The Beast 666."

Sir Hector rose from the ranks of enlisted men, a hero of many Middle East campaigns, earning the moniker "Fighting Mac." After decades of service and achieving an international reputation, he shot himself in lieu of facing a court martial for acts of gross indecency. It is a documented fact that these two men met briefly in Paris in 1903; Arnott imagines what may have transpired between the flamboyant magus and the disgraced officer, conjuring a story of adventure, intrigue and sexual repression. Scenes of great daring-do are coupled with others truly poignant.

Though I enjoyed reading this, I must admit that I felt the whole somehow unbalanced. Crowley often seems unintentionally broad and humorous, the characterization a burlesque and not at all menacing, which I feel was the author's aim. I couldn't help but think of him as a great buffoon, the Roger Elizabeth Debris of the occult world, or refugee from a Lucifer Box book. This in itself wouldn't bother me save that it is in direct opposition to the rather grave and sobering tales of Sir Hector, both his reminiscences and present circumstances. I found the Major General's story fascinating; another bit of hidden LGBT history. Unlike the notorious traitor Colonel Redl, blackmailed and thus compromised, our hero fell victim to a villain more malignant and pervasive: the snobbish bigotry of the British upper crust.

For all its faults, "The Devil's Paintbrush" is a compelling and richly detailed novel, atmospheric and deftly observed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
There is possibly some truth in it - Fighting Mac (Sir Hector Archibald Macdonald) and Aleister Crowley (the Beast to adherents and his mother), were both in Paris on 24 March 1903, but there is no evidence other than that of Aleister Crowley himself that they ever actually met. However, Jake Arnott's scenario is an intriguing opening for the beginning of this rather patchy novel.

"A great, simple, lion-hearted man with the spirit of a child, thought the Beast as he caught sight of Hector Macdonald taking lunch alone in the dining room of the Hotel Regina."

From this promising opening we are taken on to the premise that the two men formed something of a friendship, perhaps allied by similar interests. Involved along the way are Baden-Powell (otherwise known as Bathing Towel to initiates), Edward VII, General Gordon, Lord Kitchener and the poet William Butler Yeats. All are called upon to play a part in either past or contemporary sections of the plot. I would like to say that all this is marvellously entertaining, but somehow it doesn't quite come off. The most exciting sections concern the various wars in which Macdonald fought, including leading a contingent of Sudanese soldiers in North Africa, which enable Arnott to construct a past for Macdonald replete with love affairs with various men, including his young Sudenese Batman, Bakhit (pun intended, I wonder?). Most of this can be documented in Macdonald's history, though at his death the British Army whitewashed his life entirely.

The most conspicuous lack, however, is any real sense of the man Aleister Crowley, Occultist, Mountaineer, writer and founder of various esoteric Magic-related associations, and possibly a spy for the British and Americans.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An Incomplete Work 4 April 2010
Jake Arnott, author of semi-fictional London gangland based novels, now turns his hand to the last days of the Victorian era and imagines what might have happened between two very different icons of the time: occultist Alateir Crowley and Major General Sir Hector "Fighting Mac" Macdonald when they met in Paris. It's a fascinating premise and the result should have been a wonder; a new phase in Arnott's development as an author. Instead, we are presented with an unsatisfying, inconsistent work, where the intriguing Crowley's story is neglected in favour of the battling "Boy's Own" military heroics of MacDonald. The relationship between the two men is suffocated by a host of flashbacks and distracting minor characters. Some, such as Robert Baden-Powell, seem to have been crowbarred in by Arnott for the sake of completeness. Others, such as the woman Astrid are merely confusing. Who is she? What is her motivation for being involved in Crowley's world? We never really find out. MacDonald's military feats are exciting enough, with Arnott having taken care to accurately decribe the various battles the Scot fought in, but the parallel stories of MacDonald's increasing yearning for the local young men of Sudan and later Ceylon(a preference that in real life, sadly, led to his suicide) are disappointingly underdeveloped. The result is a messy, insubstantial piece of speculative fiction that shows flashes of Arnott's hitherto engaging and tight style but nothing more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and credible read 19 Aug 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I came across this book after Googling "The Devil's Paintbrush" because an example of the wild flower of that name had turned up in my lawn. As a member of one of Crowley's orders, when I saw that The Beast was a central character in the book I had to give it a shot.
I found it a really good and engrossing read, and while the book is obviously a work of some imagination, it is well researched and certainly one of the better works of fiction (which must include most newspaper reports of Crowley's system and nature!) that I have read. One point made me wince a little, but then my regard for Crowley as the prophet of the aeon is bound to make it difficult for any author to come up with a story involving him that will satisfy me and yet not sound fantastical to those with a different view of him.
I read comparatively little fiction myself so the fact that it gripped me is certainly in its favour, and I found both the central characters well drawn and involving.
I recommend this to any of my fellow Thelemites who might fancy some respite from reading grimoires!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars captures the period well
Our group had already read the author's Johnny Go Home about Gary Glitter. This one is also based on real people. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
4.0 out of 5 stars Something of a mixed bag
The Devil's Paintbrush has a really interesting story, and moments of humour which lighten the atmosphere well, but seems to be trying to pack in too much narrative to a relatively... Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2011 by Brixtonian
2.0 out of 5 stars Mr Crowley - kindly leave the stage...
The figure of Major General Sir Hector MacDonald gives Jake Arnott a great opportunity to step away from Gangland while keeping to his strengths of bold characterisation, filling... Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2011 by Ivor.R
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky story
This is an unusual novel. Based on real characters and incidents, it uses an actual meeting between two historical persons and creates the background and detail of what the author... Read more
Published on 1 Oct 2010 by Stephen Mcdaniel
5.0 out of 5 stars well pleased
i can not wait to read this book
if you have read his other books then you know what i mean
very pleased with the service
quick delivery no fuss
Published on 25 Sep 2010 by george
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
A departure from his other novels, this is a complex story that needs to be read more than once. Having said that it was not a disapointment. Full marks for his research. Read more
Published on 18 July 2010 by Tricky Dicky
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb read
I am a great fan of Jake Arnott's work and have also been fascinated with the life and works of Aleister Crowley since Unviversity days. So this book is a real treat for me. Read more
Published on 7 Oct 2009 by One in Ten
5.0 out of 5 stars The Devil's Paintbrush
An intriguing novel from Jake Arnott, and an original removal from his previous modern crime novels. Once again, Arnott evokes a by gone age mixing fact and fiction. Read more
Published on 6 Aug 2009 by Dr. Lee
1.0 out of 5 stars Devil's Paintbrush
I did not enjoy this book. I found it confusing and disjointed and is certainly not a book that will keep.
Published on 9 July 2009 by M. Hamilton
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