The Enigma of the Warwickshire Vortex

by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

A Review by G.M.Kelly

Castle Books
A division of Book Sales, Inc.
114 Northfield Avenue
Edison, NJ 08837

1997 E.V.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

"The Enigma of the Warwickshire Vortex" is actually but a single short story in an anthology entitled New Sherlock Holmes Adventures edited by Mike Ashley.  This edition was published by arrangement with and the permission of Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 161 William Street, New York, New York 10038, originally published as The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Homes Adventures.

In my younger days I was a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and his intrepid sidekick Dr. Watson, but as I grew older I came to agree with Aleister Crowley that the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were somewhat contrived.  However, I still find the characters of Holmes and Watson quite engaging and whenever I detect a book of new stories written by various authors about these icons of mystery I simply have to pick it up and peruse the table of contents.  When doing so with this book two things caught my eye immediately, first the name "Warwickshire" in the title of one story, a locale which will always be connected to Aleister Crowley, and the name F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, the author of an amusing book elsewhere reviewed on this site, The Woman Between the Worlds.  Needless to say, I had to purchased this modestly priced book in the local Barnes & Noble bookshop in which I discovered it.

It's the disappearance of a businessman that draws Holmes and Watson to Warwickshire and thus to the discovery of an unexpected relationship between Aleister Crowley and Ambrose Bierce.  And if you think you know what that relationship was, well, the author will probably surpise you.

"The Enigma of the Warwickshire Vortex" is, of course, a work of fiction, but it is always fun to read stories involving Aleister Crowley, well written, and refusing to take the easy and slanderous path of casting To Mega Therion as the villian of the piece.

For those of you who have come to enjoy the work of this particular author, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre contributed another Sherlock Holmes story entitled "The Adventure of Exham Priory (1901)" to another and perhaps more interesting anthology entitled Shadows over Baker Street, described on the front of the softcover trade paperback thusly:  "SHERLOCK HOLMES enters the nightmare world of H. P. LOVECRAFT".  Now you just know that some if not all of these stories in the book edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan have got to be fun!  F.Y.I., Shadows Over Baker Street is a Del Rey Book, which is an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, copyright 2003 E.V.

E-Mail Message Received November 4, 2006 E.V.

Several years ago, I encountered your very thoughtful review of my Aleister Crowleyan novel "The Woman Between the Worlds"; I believe that I contacted you at the time about this.  Just recently, I had the great pleasure of reading your review of my Crowleyan story "The Enigma of the Warwickshire Vortex".  Very impressive, and even more so for also mentioning my story "The Adventure of Exham Priory" which has no specific Crowleyan content.

I wonder if you realise how deeply accurate my story "The Enigma of the Warwickshire Vortex" actually is.  It is absolutely true, as I state in my story, that Ambrose Bierce and his family were living at 20 South Parade, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire in early 1875, nine months before the birth of Aleister Crowley -- i.e., presumably the time of Crowley's conception -- while Crowley's mother and putative father were living at 30 Clarendon Square, also in Leamington Spa.  Bierce was back in California by October, the month of Crowley's birth.

The two addresses are, indeed, only a short distance apart.  For the purposes of my story, I had Crowley's mother trysting with Bierce in a house at 13a Tavistock Street.  There is indeed a Tavistock Street in Leamington; it is midway between South Parade and Clarendon Square.  I made up the "13a" so as not to involve an actual building or its historic occupants in my plotline.

Also correct, as depicted in my story, is the fact that Aleister Crowley and Ambrose Bierce were both in New York City in May 1906.  This is the only occasion when these two men were in close proximity, unless one counts the period of Crowley's prenatal conception.  In his 'Confessions', Crowley mentions his visit to New York City in 1906 as part of his world tour, but he makes an error concerning the Sanford White scandal.

One more detail mentioned in my story is accurate:  Ambrose Bierce's father did indeed have the penchant of giving all his children forenames beginning with 'A'.  Since Edward Alexander Crowley saw fit to restyle himself Aleister, I thought it might be amusing to suggest that this was in deference to Ambrose Bierce's father's tradition.

For purposes of my story, I had Bierce living in Leamington under the name 'James Phillimore', and engineering his own mysterious disappearance.  You may possibly be aware that one of the original Sherlock Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle makes a brief reference to the unexplained disappearance of one James Phillimore as being one of the cases that Holmes was unable to solve.  Doyle offers no further details.  I am one of several post-Doyle authors who have written Sherlock Holmes stories attempting to address this mystery.

Another American author also lived in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire:  no less than Nathaniel Hawthorne.  This was of course before Crowley's and Bierce's time.

In early May 2000 -- less than a week before the regrettable crime of Henry Bibby, alias "Edward Alexander Crowley" -- I was in Leamington Spa on business, and I made a brief pilgrimage to Crowley's family home in Clarendon Square.  The magnificent Victorian edifice was (is?) still there, but regrettably its exterior was entirely covered in scaffolding, with several rubbish tips nearby.

In my novel "The Woman Between the Worlds", my detailed description of Crowley's London residence at 67-69 Chancery Lane was accurate ... including the obscure detail of human bas-relief statuary flanking Crowley's window, and only Crowley's window, on the front of the building.  Regrettably, most of this is now gone.  In January 2006, the building was gutted and refaced.  I attach a photo of the interior, including a late Victorian bathtub that might once have hosted Perdurabo himself!

I welcome any reply at your convenience.

Straight on till mourning,

-- Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre

Love is the law, love under will.