This was an enjoyable yet flawed occult story. Maugham based his main villain on Crowley after spending time hanging out with Crowley in Paris. He was taken by Crowley's gift of storytelling but disliked him (according to the note of autobiography at the front of this book).
The story revolved around a doctor and his beautiful (though rather pointless and doomed) fiance. It was quite interesting to see the normal settings of turn of the century Paris turned into an occult thriller, where you shouldn't piss off random people in coffee shops.
While I enjoyed the plot, the discussions about the occult, and the rather surprising twists later in the story I really didn't care much for the style. This has to be the least interestingly written Edwardian book I've ever read. There was little style, not even small passages that were written beautifully. This problem was magnified by the need to refer to the non-beautiful woman, as "plain" or "ugly" whenever she was mentioned. Not to mention the exceedingly heavy-handed abuse of the Magician for being fat. I don't think he had one scene in the first half of the book where someone didn't make a fat joke, and there wasn't a paragraph talking about him that didn't make reference to his "hideous obeseness". You could almost feel sorry for him and side with him over the doctor and his companions.
It was quite an interesting story. It reminded me of the Jewel of the Seven Stars and The Devil Rides Out. I definitely won't be reading anything else by the author though....Continua