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The Devil's Paintbrush

3.27  ·  Rating Details ·  175 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
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 Gener ...more
hardcover, 368 pages
Published May 28th 2009 by Sceptre (first published January 1st 2009)
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Sophie Narey (Bookreview- aholic)
Published: 2010
Author: Jake Arnott

I saw the cover of this book and thought that it looked really good as it is a very eye catching cover. As soon as I purchased it I dived right into reading it....then spent about 3/4 of the book being totally baffled and confused as to what was going on and what was happening. But I kept going, determined to finishing it, hoping all will become clear at the end of the novel with all the lose ends being tied up.. however I finished the book and still felt totall
Jenny Macdonald
A surprise of a book - only brought it because the cover intrigued me. Turned into a thoroughly enjoyable read combining real characters Alistair Crowley and a very uptight Major facing court martial for sodomy and one steamy and magical night in Paris. A sad ending that is by no means predictable. Recommended
Nov 27, 2009 Ivan rated it really liked it
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
Derek Baldwin
Jul 28, 2011 Derek Baldwin rated it liked it
I'd read a couple of Jake Arnott's earlier novels set in the British underworld, and enjoyed The Long Firm a great deal. But the second one, He Kills Coppers, was a definite downhill step, and so I hadn't bothered with the subsequent couple of novels. Howevere the subject matter of this one, revolving around an encounter between Hector McDonald, a disgraced military hero, and magician Aleister Crowley, sparked my interest. This is well written (though the astral travel scenes in the Sudan didn't ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book and am getting my copy back from my dear friend Alvin soon! Arnott portrays a young Aleister Crowley and a theater queen who taught him most of what he knew, also an encounter with an involuntarily outed british army officer. It is SO good, scathing, true, how the h e double toothpicks does this Arnott do it? I am crazy about ALL his books.
May 26, 2011 Alvin rated it it was amazing
Another terrific tour de force from Jake Arnott! As with all his novels, the language is better than competent, but never quite magnificent. The plot and characterizations, however, are delightful and amazing. On top of that, the history is fascinating and the social commentary insightful.
Jul 13, 2009 Martinxo rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2009
War hero Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald encounters Aleister Crowley in Paris, ficitonalised account of an actual meeting. Great fun.

Arnott can write, phew!
This is a very interesting idea for a novel. The execution of that idea is patchy. Some parts are very good. It very nearly hangs together as a whole.

Arnott takes the true story of a night when Aleister Crowley (the famous satanist once described as the most evil man in Britain) met the disgraced hero of the army of the British Empire known as Fighting Mac. He imagines it in detail. At times this gives great insight into the characters of the two men and some peripheral characters. The tale, ho
Marc Nash
Jun 25, 2012 Marc Nash rated it did not like it
Jake Arnott writes about crims and rent boys. In the same way that Quentin Tarantino really needs to make a movie without a gun, it's about time Arnott extends his palate. And in "The Devil's Paintbrush" he does just that, bringing together dark magician Aleister Crowley and a General of the British Army disgraced by his penchant for colonial youths (age uncertain), to offer a broad sweep of Victorian history, colonialism, new technology and arcana. Props to him for moving out of his 1960's comf ...more
Nov 03, 2013 Roisin rated it really liked it
I've never read Jake Arnott before and overall this was highly readable. Based on a true story about the Scottish war hero Major-General Sir Hector Macdonald, who meets Aleister Crowley in Paris, involving a manuscript, secret societies, artistic community, war abroad, and immorality accusations made against Macdonald.

Arnott is highly descriptive (accounts in the desert and war) and there may be moments where you have to suspend your belief, but it is a fictional account, so suspend away. Macdo
Andrew Logan
Jul 11, 2015 Andrew Logan rated it liked it
Jake Arnott's book structures itself around a meeting between two real people and extraordinary people, Sir Hector MacDonald and Aleister Crowley.
It weaves some fascinating stories out of the invented details of that meeting and of Sir Hector's life.
There is a good and well written story here that is quite separate from the known facts of Sir Hector's life. His biography seems to be an unnecessary wrap around that story.
There are also two, as far as I can tell from my brief perusal of his online
Jul 16, 2012 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Based on a real meeting between the rather strange occultist Alistair Crowley and Major General Sir Hector MacDonald in Paris in 1903, after MacDonald had been informed he would be facing a court martial when he returned to his post in Ceylon, for immoral conduct (well for having sex with men). The plot moves around his career, with Crowley encouraging him to remember the key times in his life and thus accept his sexuality and reject society's judgemental attitude. Jake Arnott shows he is a skil ...more
Helen Lobel
Way darker than I anticipated, and definitely not the book you're looking for if you want a light or fluffy read. I mean, the sex and the drug use and homphobia, I was kind of expecting. The rape and the devil worship were a surprise. Still, watching these characters be drawn together and manipulate each other was utterly captivating and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There's also a sense of moral ambiguity, an absolute lack of hero characters, that leaves me a bit uncomfortable. The good type of unco ...more
Courtney Williams
Feb 15, 2014 Courtney Williams rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I had been really been looking forward to reading this book, having bought it on the strength of its blurb – and, let's be honest, its gorgeous cover, which I first noticed on a poster while on the tube – but I just couldn't get into it. I tried several times, but I never got very far. Despite the exciting subject matter, the storytelling wasn't compelling at all, and I didn't really care about the characters. Perhaps others might find something to enjoy that I didn't, and I am entirely happy to ...more
Jun 17, 2016 Richbern rated it it was ok
One of the oddest, most schizophrenic books i've ever read. Arnott is a master of tight, focused noir crime thrillers--so maybe he wanted to try something new? Part of the story is about a military man in the early 1900s who's awaiting a court martial for 'gross indecency.' The scenes of his life, and the longing that brought him to this place are quite beautiful. But then there's all this muck about black magic and Satan worship that have nothing to do with the main story. Really left me scratc ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Kari rated it it was ok
I had quite high hopes for this what with the main character being Aleister Crowley but it was very disappointing. It didn't draw me in or hold my attention, and I didn't engage with the characters at all. Crowley was such a big personality but this felt rather bland. Far too much time was devoted to describing military operations in such detail that I tended to get bored and speed read bits. It wasn't worth the effort and has put me off trying another Jake Arnott book.
Oct 13, 2016 Jenn rated it liked it
I bought this book mainly because it's historical fiction and the book cover was nice. Honestly speaking this book got me into a reading slump because it's written in a mildly confusing manner that would make you question if you would want to proceed reading it or not. As I made my way through the pages however, I started to grow an interest over Major General Hector Macdonald's real life conquests and somehow even felt empathy towards his predicament. The ending was rather unexpected.

Katie Grainger
Aug 04, 2011 Katie Grainger rated it it was ok
The Devil's Paintbrush had all the elements that I thought would make a fantastic book. Scandal, magic and history are all rife within the story however I just found it really difficult to get through. I wasn't particularly interested in the characters and struggled to get through some of the sections. Interesting idea but just not my cup of tea.
Jun 27, 2015 Deanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Based on a true event, the meeting of Aleister Crowley and Sir Hector MacDonald in Paris.
Felt a lot of sympathy for MacDonald, a man in an impossible situation, facing court martial and disgrace for being himself. Crowley however is harder to like, especially knowing what I know of him.
Boo A-c
Feb 21, 2016 Boo A-c rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-lgbt-books
This is a really cracking book!
Like seriously I'm so surprised by it. It's brilliant the story is incredible and its depiction of sexuality is incredibly well done. I hope one day this gets a great movie adaptation because boy does it deserve one. I need to go read Arnott's other books pronto!
Rachel Nowakowski
May 26, 2012 Rachel Nowakowski rated it it was ok
Didn't have the concentration to finish this. It didn't really hold my attention and I ended up just skipping to the back few pages to find out what happened.
Apr 11, 2011 Andrea rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-books
It didn't captivate me as much as Johnny Come Home, but it was interesting to learn that there really was a Sir Hector MacDonald.
Feb 12, 2013 Cliff rated it really liked it
Hooray, a well written book. A fictional account of true events. Wikipedia has an interesting piece on one of the main characters, Major-General Sir Hector MacDonald.
Sep 05, 2011 Diana rated it it was ok
Really couldn't get going with this one. Had to miss out chunks because it seemed too tedious to plough through.
Gareth Evans
Rather a strange book, some excellent passages and some very good writing, but the overall story did not convince and grip me.
Alex Clare
Aug 27, 2016 Alex Clare rated it liked it
An intriguing idea, spun from a concept. The characters, a military hero and a proto-Satanist never really came to live for me, though the Paris setting was well-described.
Graeme rated it really liked it
Nov 05, 2012
Helene Kroeger
Helene Kroeger rated it liked it
Jun 23, 2014
Jim Wilson
Jim Wilson rated it liked it
Nov 09, 2016
Rachel rated it liked it
Oct 16, 2012
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Jake Arnott is a British novelist, author of The Long Firm and four other novels. In 2005 Arnott was ranked one of Britain's 100 most influential gay and lesbian people; but since 2005 he has been in a relationship with the formerly lesbian writer and novelist, Stephanie Theobald. In May 2001 he was included in a list of the fifty most influential gay men in Britain, it was declared that he is wid ...more
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