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Arthur Burdon, a surgeon, has come to visit Paris and in particular to see his fiancee, art student Margaret Dauncey. On his first evening there he is introduced by a colleague, Dr Porhoet, to Arthur Haddo, who claims to be a magician. When Arthur, Margaret and her friend Susie are sceptical about his claims, he performs various unpleasant tricks to prove it to them. Margaret finds that he makes her flesh creep, and the others also take a strong dislike to him; although very fat and ugly, he still exudes a strange charm which some women seem to find irresistible. Margaret starts to feel sorry for him, decides she really rather likes him after all, and has her suspicions that Arthur and Susie are becoming romantically involved. She spends more time with Oliver and realises that she is in love with him - or else falling under his spell. Arthur has a feeling that all is not well between them, but his mind is set at rest after they have a very pleasant dinner out one evening. She pretends she is still utterly besotted by him, but after they part company for the night she keeps her rendezvous with Oliver, they get secretly married at once and return to England. Once Arthur finds out what has happened he is beside himself, and fears lest her life is in danger. Making it his mission to save her from herself, or from Haddo, he returns to England, taking Susie and Dr Porhoet with him. From then on an air of unreality, horror and even science fiction takes over what has until now been quite a realistic story. Maugham builds the tension chillingly to the point where the reader knows that something very unpleasant is going to happen...
Although this was written and published in the first decade of the twentieth century, it reads very well. Occasionally it is a little full of rather over-florid description but not to the extent of being off-putting. At around 230 pages in paperback, the length is just about right. I thoroughly recommend this as a chilling, exciting read.
Set in Bohemian Paris at the turn of the 20th century, this sinister novel was inspired by the notorious black magician, Aleister Crowley, and portrays Parisian cafe society.