The Devil’s Paintbrush
Paris, 1903. A homosexual scandal has shattered a British military hero’s career. Sir Hector MacDonald is at his nadir when he encounters an unlikely ally in the form of notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, himself no stranger to homoerotic desire. Moved by pity, fascination and his own dark designs, Crowley lures MacDonald into the depths of sin, claiming that the only path to redemption is through damnation. After secretly dosing the general with a hallucinogenic drug, Crowley guides the taciturn Scotsman on a stygian odyssey through the fleshpots of Paris.
Under sway of the drug, MacDonald relives his glorious victories in the Sudan where he fell painfully in love with one of his Abyssinian soldiers, a former jihadiyya or holy warrior forced to fight on the side of the British infidels. The devil’s paintbrush of the title is the newly invented automatic machine gun which, in the mind of MacDonald’s lover, is bringing about the End of Days foretold by Mohammed. Later, serving in South Africa, MacDonald finds himself herding Boer families into the world’s first concentration camps. These flashbacks force him to realise that he lost his soul years before Crowley escorted him to his first black mass.
This powerful and highly intelligent novel echoes Joseph Conrad in heralding the 20th century’s heart of darkness: a godless epoch ruled by selfish lusts, diabolical weaponry, swastikas and death camps. A highly recommended, sobering read.