Review: The Compact by Charlie Raven
Late last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed A Case of Domestic Pilfering by Rohase Piercy and Charlie Raven. That book had originally been written by Raven then reworked by Rohase.
Raven’s style is clear in her solo effort The Compact, set in London and England of 1898 – a paranormal queer adventure where real people meet fictional ones and detection meets ghosts.
The action revolves around two extremely close friends, widows Harriet Day, who teaches piano, and artist Alexandra Roberts. The lifelong friends share an undercurrent of romantic attachment, but their lives are about to be turned inside out. First, Alex falls under the unhealthy influence of the wealthy Minerva Atwell, whom she has been commissioned to paint. Then one of Alex’s boarders dies in a horrible accident.
Their lives ares entangled with Roberts’ boarders, including the unpleasant Albert Burroughs, and the childlike and ethereal George Arden. George is fey and vague and sees ghosts. He’s also falsely accused of murder by Burroughs.
Real life figures Aleister Crowley, occultist and magician, and his lover, poet and female impersonator Jerome Pollitt, become involved with George’s situation, as does Dr John Watson, who is recovering from illness while Sherlock Holmes pursues a case in Russia.
It’s a large cast which Raven deftly handles with charm, elegance and excellent pacing. The story has plenty of humour as well as creeping dread, while the story slow-builds towards the discovery of grisly crimes, horrible secrets, Atwell’s disturbing schemes and George’s strange history.
Dr Watson’s efforts to be a detective in his friend’s absence are naturally not as brilliant as Holmes’s, though he does his best in partnership with the brilliant, unpredictable, substance-abusing Aleister Crowley. The comparisons he (and the reader) makes between Holmes and Crowley are inevitable and entertaining.
Watson is only a small player in the tale, however, which focuses on Harriet trying to discover Minerva Atwell’s power and clear George Arden’s name. She and Alex are both strong characters, as is Minerva and all her mystery. Crowley and Pollitt are lively, too, as are all the supporting cast.
The action reaches its climax of mystic threats, ancient Sumerian tablets, the unquiet dead and deadly intent at Minerva Atwell’s creepy spa in the country.
Raven’s prose is lively, her period detail light and evocative, and even the most minor of her cast of characters is distinct and fresh. She’s also made me keen to read more of and by Aleister Crowley!
The Compact is engaging good fun. After enjoying A Case of Domestic Pilfering so much too, I’m hoping I won’t have to wait too long for some more from Charlie Raven.
Buy The Compact