That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unsworth
April 1943: four boys playing in Hagley Woods, Worcestershire make a gruesome discovery. Inside an enormous elm tree, there is the body of a woman, her mouth stuffed with a length of cloth. As the case goes cold, mysterious graffiti starts going up across the Midlands: ‘Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?’
To Ross Spooner, a police officer working undercover for spiritualist magazine Two Worlds, the messages hold a sinister meaning. He’s been on the track of a German spy ring who have left a trail of black magic and mayhem across England, and this latest murder bears all the hallmarks of an ancient ritual.
At the same time, Spooner is investigating the case of Helen Duncan, a medium whose messages from the spirit world contain highly classified information. As the establishment joins ranks against Duncan, Spooner must face demons from his own past, uncover the spies hiding beneath the fabric of wartime society – and confront those who suspect that he, too, may not be all he seems …
I liked the sound of this novel so much, that before it had even arrived I had ordered another of the authors novels. The combination of the ww2 era, jazz and the occult, are clear winners for me! The second world war is my favourite era within historical fiction. I have a passion for jazz music and the occult adds the mystery!
The synopsis sounds amazing and at the point of the black magic themes. I was literally screaming ‘take my money’ to the Amazon page. I thought that the author may use the mystery and intrigue of the themes to provide a vague and mysterious novel. I was totally wrong! The novel has so much incredible detail. Some of the factual characters from history have been re-written. Simon De Vere for example, is heavily based on a real-life person. I clicked straight away the reference and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all, in fact it added to it. I found myself wracking my brains trying to spot other potential real-life characters. I think this is very cleverly done on the authors part and there is further explanation in the acknowledgements for the ww2 nerds like myself.
The novel opens in January 1941 at a séance with various practitioners of spiritualism. The performer Helen Duncan starts choking and claims to merely be enacting something that has happened to a spirit, claiming . . .
‘She’s lost out there, away in the woods, in the snow’
Immediately you the reader are propelled right into the thick of the action! The novel moves around the timeline and the various characters.
Adding more and more illusion and trickery. But is it?
Karl Kohl is a German soldier tasked with parachuting into Britain. Kohl dreams of being reunited with an anonymous woman. He is a self-confessed coward and his jump is doomed to fail. He finds himself in a farmer’s field, where he is quickly captured and transported to MI5 HQ. But will kohl talk? British intelligence are all ears. . .
Detective Sgt Ross Spooner grew up with parents that ran a rare and antique book shop in Aberdeen. He is quickly seconded by MI5 and ‘the chief’ to assist with the intelligence from Kohl. Kohl speaks of a German agent named Clara Bauer, known in England as Clara Brown and to the Nazi’s as Belladonna.
Spooner must locate her and bring her to MI5.
‘I think women are the key to this work. They’ve their own secret networks, away from the world of men’ Ross Spooner
What Spooner uncovers is a case that will challenge everything he believes in and leave him questioning his own sanity at times!
As said above, the novel has brilliant detail. The plot is intelligently plotted at all times. There is a wealth of fascinating characters such as Lady Mirabelle Wynter a former suffragette turned fascist! The settings of séance’s and the ghost club add an eerie, haunting feel to the novel. The creation of fear in an era when it is so readily available!
Illusion and trickery of ww2 with an occult element.