The Monster’s Lament

Written by Robert Edric
Review by Doug Kemp

London in the spring of 1945, and the country is starting to think about the ending of the Second World War, and what this means for civilian life. For one young man, the end of the War means little, for he is condemned to die, waiting for execution in Pentonville Prison. Peter Tait is believed to be innocent, though, having been seemingly framed for murder by a gangland leader named Tommy Fowler, who runs a lucrative and violent sex and entertainment racket in London. Fowler’s illegal empire will also need to adapt with the approaching end of hostilities. Into this creeps the notorious Aleister Crowley, who has a devilish scheme of using the death of Tait to bring about some occult spell that will grant the ageing Satanist immortality, or so he thinks. This is a toxic brew of criminality and nastiness, and it all ends in somewhat predictable violence just as VE Day is declared.

This is fine literary novel, which examines with forensic honesty the lives of those loitering around the fringes of the criminal underworld in wartime London, as well as the police and prison staff dragged into this mess. The declining powers of Crowley are depicted well also, showing how an old man, reflecting upon his dissolute and infamous life, desperately tries to prolong his existence. As in many of Robert Edric’s novels, the human condition is seen as being mostly vilely unpleasant, or just sad or rather pathetic. But it ends on a note of renewal, though for many of the protagonists, the outlook is bleak, at best. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this novel very much.