In Victorian London, the black magician and spiritualist Jonathan seeks out the Throne of Solomon which will grant him immortality and dominion over Lucifer, Asmodeus and all the demons of the upper air. His search leads him to New York, a city of slums and death.
Pursuing him is Pierce James Figg, a bare-knuckle fighter and teacher of sword and knife fighting, whose wife Jonathan has seduced and brutally murdered and who is responsible for the death of his son. Figg carries with him a letter of introduction from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe, the brilliant and tortured genius whose intellect and genius outrun his common sense.
Against the background of New York in the 1840s, a city of open sewers, Poe and Figg begin a perilous mission to find and destroy Jonathan before he can achieve his goal of controlling Lucifer and thereby change the destiny of the world.
If Figg wants to destroy Jonathan for having killed his wife, Poe must destroy the black magician in order to save Rachel Coltman, the woman he loves. For she has fallen into Jonathan’s hands and cannot be expected to survive for long.
Aided by Figg, Poe plays out a deadly game, fighting not only the demonic forces ranged against him but also his personal demons, the memory of his beloved dead wife and the cheap alcohol he consumes in order to forget her and blot out the critics who demean his incredible talent.
LONDON, January 19, 1848
Charles Dickens, fighting a sore throat and a growing cold in his chest, sipped warm gin and lemon. His head throbbed, his voice was hoarse and he longed for a soft bed in a quiet, dark room. But quiet darkness would have to wait.
This morning the 35-year-old Dickens had stood in a cold rain with a crowd of twenty thousand people and watched as a fourteen-year-old boy was hung in front of Newgate Prison. Tonight the boy’s grieving father sat in Dicken’s book-lined study.
Dickens coughed phlegm from his raw throat. He was small, slim, with a thin, handsome face, and still in the red velvet waistcoat, blue cravat and tight grey trousers he’d worn to the hanging.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Figg.”
“Thankin’ you for askin’, Mr. Dickens, sir. I, I had things to tend to, so I didn’t get your message ‘til late. Hopin’ I’m not disturbin’ you and the missus by appearin’ at this hour.”
“It’s gone just half eight, Mr. Figg, and you are most certainly not disturbing us. I invited you, if you remember.”
“Grateful I am, sir. The boy’s taken care of now. I did for him as I promised.”
Pierce James Figg, forty-eight and stocky, eyes red-rimmed from crying, folded his large, gnarled hands in his lap. He was a bare-knuckle prizefighter and boxing instructor whom Charles Dickens, the most prosperous and popular author of his day, the most famous man in England, respected as much as any man he knew.
Dickens threw his head back to clear long brown hair from his face. He sat in the wooden chair he preferred to the overstuffed furniture currently in vogue and now cramming the homes of those Englishmen who could afford it. He thought of the wealth and fame he now enjoyed and sadly shook his head; none of it gave him the power to remove even a portion of Figg’s grief. God above, what grief! Figg’s son hanged for a crime committed by the same man who had murdered Figg’s wife.
Tonight, Pierce James Figg sat in a black frock-coat borrowed for his son’s hanging and burial, a coat which ill-fitted his squat body. An awesome sight, dear Mr. Figg. Decent, but no man to cross or do the dirty to. Makes his living teaching the use of fist, cudgel, knife and short-sword and no one does it better.
Figg flopped his round shaven head back against the leather chair and spoke to the ceiling. ‘Made me boy a promise, I did. He says to me, “Don’t let them body-snatchers dig me up and sell me to the anatomists, them bloody doctors who will carve me into little bits. Promise me, dad. Promise me the sack’em-ups won’t get me.”'
Miserable ghouls, thought Dickens, terrifying us all, because the desecration of a grave was the most hideous of crimes. In a moment of bitter whimsy, someone had also named these criminals resurrectionists.
Figg dabbed at his eyes with a large white handkerchief. ‘Filled me boy’s coffin with quicklime. Done it meself. What’s in there now ain’t fit for nobody to touch. Won’t be nobody dragging Will off for rum money.’
Dickens flinched. He had seven children of his own. The idea of having to fill their coffins with quicklime...
On the other side of the closed study door, the shaggy white terrier Timber Doodle ran in circles as it whined for its master. Dickens turned and smiled in the dog’s direction. ‘Given to me when I was in America six years ago. A presentation from Mr. Mitchell, a popular American comedian.’ He turned back to Figg. ‘I’ve spoken to you in the past of my trip to America, and now you are about to embark for that land yourself.’
‘To find Jonathan and kill him.’
‘You pursue a dangerous quest, my friend. Jonathan’s a most deadly adversary, with powers beyond those of mortal men. I’m something of an amateur hypnotist myself, as you know, and have some familiarity with related spiritual matters. I see in Jonathan only the blackest of deeds. And you don’t even know what he looks like.’
‘I shall kill him, sir.’
‘As you must, as you should. Justice has failed you in the matter of your wife and son, so I deeply sympathize with your wish for satisfaction. I intend to assist you in my own fashion.’...
Dickens placed a hand on the prizefighter’s shoulder and spoke in a firm, low voice. ‘Four years ago, remember? An agonizingly cold December it was, and my two little ones, Charley and Katey, were returning from school. A joyous time for them. Snow on the ground, Christmas to come, and to be young and dreaming of childish pleasures. That’s when “the skinners” attacked them.’
‘You prevented my children from being terrorized and degraded, stripped of their clothes in the cold, Mr. Figg. Providence sent you to strike down those men who would have left my Charley and Katey shivering naked in the snow.’
At his desk, Dickens opened a drawer and pulled out two pale blue envelopes and a man’s black leather belt.
Dickens said, ‘I promised to help you. Are you certain I cannot offer you spirits or tea?”
‘No sir. No stomach for it at the moment, thankin’ you.’
‘Mr. Figg you have buried three people you loved: a wife, a son, a father-in-law dead of grief. And yet you remain a most considerate gentleman. It is I who should thank you for allowing me to--'
‘I have me downy moments, Mr. Dickens. Me moments of cunning, sir.’
‘As do we all. But here, please take these.’ He handed Figg the pair of envelopes and the belt.
It was a money belt, its inside lined with gold sovereign coins.
‘Call this a payment, a very small one, on the lives of my two children whom you rescued without knowing who they were.’
‘...to the matter of these envelopes. One is a letter of introduction to Titus Bootham, an Englishman who is editor and publisher of a small newspaper for Britons living in New York. Call upon him for any assistance in my name. He will gladly extend himself.’
‘The other letter. Ah, the other letter.’ His throat was worse, the pain was strong but he had to talk now, for he was speaking of--
‘Edgar Allan Poe. Remember that name, Mr. Figg, for you will find Mr. Poe one of the experiences of your lifetime...’
Copyright © 1978 by Marc Olden