People don’t generally know a lot about Tycho Brahe, which is a shame. In most accounts of the history of astronomy, his bright star tends to get eclipsed by the twin 17th century supernovae of Kepler and Galileo. But scratch the surface of the story, and it’s really not that simple…

Brahe was a Danish nobleman with a singleminded desire – to understand why the motions of the planets in the heavens failed to match what the best astronomical tables (based both on Ptolemaic and Copernican systems) predicted. Somehow, he engineered an arrangement by which King Frederick II granted him the island of Hven to pursue his astronomical studies for the glory of Denmark: yet what Brahe set up there was as much a social institution (like a postgraduate research community) as a technical observatory – to get the job done, he needed people just as much as equipment.

In fact, Tycho tried to get all the brightest young astronomers of the time to work on his island (for peanuts, it has to be said, but that’s research for you), and to correspond with everyone who was anyone in astronomy. Even so, things didn’t always work out as planned, most notably with Ursus (though I believe the question of whether Ursus was as big a scoundrel and weasel as Brahe tried to make out is far more open than most historians credit).

Methodologically, Brahe’s biographers and historians have tended to focus on the man and his writings: yet until recently none specifically focused on his ever-changing familia (family) of research assistants that passed through Hven. John Robert Christanson’s book “On Tycho’s Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants 1570-1601” (Cambridge University Press, 2000) changed all that: what started out (quite literally) as Christianson’s shoe-box of notecards to pull together the numerous fragmentary mentions of Brahe’s coworkers slowly grew into a database, and then (25 years on) into the present book.

But there’s a problem: however interested you are in the subject, after a while the database-like origins of the book – in the infinitessimal ebbs and flows of the set of assistants – start to grate on the reader. And let’s face it, what Brahe was running was as much a kind of “observation factory” as anything else, turning (taking a Marxist-Leninist spin) a input stream of idealistic researchers into a output stream of data. After around 150 pages of on-island minutiae, you start to wonder: where is this all going? How much more can I take?

And then on page 171, Christianson’s book explodes in a direction you simply won’t (unless you’re extraordinarily well-read on Brahe’s life) have seen coming. Brahe tries to marry off his eldest morganatic daughter (“morganatic” means that when a nobleman marries a commoner, his children won’t inherit his nobility or money) to Gellius Sascerides, a clever (but church-mouse poor) member of his familia. And then everything – and I mean everything – starts to go wrong for Brahe (and at some speed), to the point that he ends up dismantling his beloved observatory and fleeing the country. Thanks to his Europe-wide network of contacts (particularly Tadeas Hajek), he finally ended up working for Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague (though only briefly) – but even so, Brahe’s swings in fortune are really quite staggering.

It’s only once you reach the end of the book that you can appreciate what happened in terms of his two familiae. Given that neither his morganatic children nor his set of researchers and coworkers seemed likely to him to give him the continuing legacy he desired, what was Brahe to do? He tried to finesse a best-of-both-worlds scenario, but the attempted union of his morganatic family and his (almost adoptive) intellectual family was simply never going to work within his societal context. It is only really a proper appreciation for his constellation of assistants on Hven that gives his whole story poignancy.

Writing teachers often say that the beginning of a story is rarely the best place to start: and so many writers would start “Brahe: The Novel” with the attempted negotiations for the wedding (and bring in all the preceding history in flashbacks etc), because this is where the wedding train (sorry!) starts to come off the rails – and where oh-so-controlling Brahe begins to lose the plot. Yet what Christianson has produced is rather more valuable than a novel: a rich, dense, vividly-detailed historical stage upon which the reader can imagine and construct their own dramas.

Overall verdict: Highly Recommended (but don’t give up in the middle!)

Alchemy arguably dates back to Alexandria, and there are many alchemical manuscripts dating through to the 13th and 14th century (though Lynn Thorndike noted that the 15th century was something of a fallow period). However, the modern organization The International Alchemy Guild traces its practical roots back to what was going in 16th century Bohemia, specifically with the work of Wilhelm von Rosenberg (their spelling) in Cesky Krumlov.

The Guild has put together a nice little historical piece on their website linking a lot of the famous alchemical names of the time to this specific milieu (though doubtless Voynich historian Rafal Prinke would view it as a somewhat simplistic rendering): so you’ll see Rudolph II, Hajek, Dee, Kelley, Horcicky, etc all passing by in quick succession… Enjoy!

Google only finds about ten pages where Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501-1577) is linked with the Voynich Manuscript. Here’s a short research note to fill that gap…

If you look at Mattioli’s CV, you’ll see plenty of echoes with other people linked to the VMs. Though a renowned herbal compiler & writer in his spare time, he was also a physician to the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand II and to Emperor Maximilian II (who was, of course, Rudolph II’s father), which is broadly similar to both Hajek and Sinapius.

Brumbaugh once compared Mattioli’s famous 1544 herbal (the one that Hajek and Handsch translated in 1562/1563) with the VMs’ herbal drawings, and concluded that the two had (I think) at most one half of one plant in common. And so it seems relatively certain there is no connection: neither one is derived from the other, nor do both emanate from a common source.

Yet even though Rene Zandbergen avers demurs in this, I am quite certain (from closely examining it at the Beinecke) that the first word of the faded marginalia at the top of f17r has been emended from “melhor” to read “mattioli“. That is, a later owner (who was probably unable to read Occitan and French) misinterpreted the word as a garbled reference to Mattioli, and decided to correct it on the page.

Marcelo Dos Santos’ page on f17r (in Spanish) mentions much of this. He also mentions Sean Palmer’s assertion that the waterstain on f17r must have happened after the f17r marginalia were added, but before the f116v ‘michitonese’ marginalia: but no, sorry, I don’t accept that idea at all. If you look at the following pages, you can see where the waterstain fades away: it’s a localised piece of damage.

Marcelo also pulls down my suggested link with fennel for the picture on f17r (the one with a pair of “eyes” in the roots): yet he seems not to grasp that there the herbal literature of the late Middle Ages / Renaissance repeatedly connects fennel with eyes – finnochio / occhio in Italian, but similarly in Occitan and other languages. Oh well.

While writing my MBA dissertation a few years ago, I spun off a short paper called “Justified True Belief: Three Words, Three Lies?“, where the abstract explained its title:-

Cornelius Castoriadis once famously described the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as “four words, four lies”: here, I examine each of the three words of “justified true belief” in turn to see if that too might be based on a fatally flawed discourse. In fact, “three lies” turns out to be a little strong – but the evidence strongly points to “two-and-a-half lies”. We deserve better than this!

My guess is that Castoriadis, for all his pithiness, was ripping off Voltaire, who in 1756 wrote:

This agglomeration which was called and still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

So now, by applying the same pattern to the Voynich Manuscript, I’m extending the chain of ripping yet further. Just so you know!

What’s in a name? Wilfrid Voynich never called it “The Voynich Manuscript”: right from the start, he called it “The Roger Bacon Manuscript”. Which was a bit of a shame, given that it originally almost certainly had nothing to do with Roger Bacon.

However, because Voynich desperately wanted it to contain Bacon’s encrypted secrets, he was convinced it had to be medieval. It was in this context that he referred to it as a “manuscript”, because manuscripts are technically defined as being handwritten documents that predate the start of printing, which means 1450 or so. And so you can see that the word “Manuscript” in “Voynich Manuscript” presupposes a medieval document, or else it would have to be called “an early modern handwritten document” (which, for all its precision, is not quite so punchy). And worse, the range of dates it could sensibly have been made goes over this 1450 mark, so we have no real certainty to work from here.

As for “Voynich”: in one sense it should be “Wojnicz”, the book dealer’s surname before he ended up in London. But we sophisticated moderns should perhaps more sensibly name it after the Jesuit Villa Mondragone (where Wilfrid Voynich found it), or Johannes Marcus Marci (who inherited it and whose letter to Kircher travelled with it all the way to New Haven), or George Baresch (arguably the first obsessive Voynich researcher to be documented), or Sinapius / Jacobus de Tepenecz (whose erased signature still faintly remains on the first page), or even Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (who was said to have paid well for it).

All of this still rather panders to an implied need for naming, as if by giving it a name it somehow helps us understand its origins (it doesn’t, can’t, and won’t). It’s an itch we don’t actually need to scratch: we need to learn to be more comfortable about remaining in a state of uncertainty.

My dissertation was all about knowledge and uncertainty: the work I’ve done since then points to my own three-word definition for knowledge – “hopefully useful lies“. Calling this enigmatic object the “Voynich Manuscript” is indeed “two words, two lies” – but as long as we never forget that they are both lies, its name is a most useful tool.

Well, you can’t say I’m not looking ahead. News reaches my ears of a lavish Voynich documentary being made by the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) “Universum” Natural History Unit and Pro Omnia Film & Video Promotion GmbH, in association with “ARTE, ZDF and the Smithsonian Network“.

Now we’ve got past the broadcasting acronym jungle, what is its angle? It’s still early days, but its producers Klaus Steindl and Andreas Sulzer seem already to have focused on the VMs’ Bohemian history as being worthy of study: we’ll just have to wait and see what their research harvests…

Well-known Voynich expert Rene Zandbergen is helping out in some way (hopefully they’ll remember to listen to him, particularly as Voynich research is more about avoiding problems than solving them), and they promise:

Now analysing the illustrations will give a new angle to decoding the manuscript. Wrapped around the text on almost every page there are drawings of plants, star constellations of the zodiac, bathing female figrues and structures remniscent of piping systems and microscopic views. Do these patterns hold the key? For this documentary a team of scientists takes a new interdisciplinary approach to crack the Voynich code – including the first forensic examination of the book itself.

Somehow, I get the feeling that they haven’t yet read my book – oh, well. 🙁 But let them continue…

A recently discovered signature is a new lead: It identifies the early 17th century scholar Jakub de Tepenec – an alchemist in attendance on Habsburg emperor Rudolph II. How was he connected to the unknown author? Did he possess some kind of secret knowledge about alchemy, magic plants and the fabled fountain of youth he tried to hide from the inquisition?

OK, OK, even though these are supposed to be rhetorical questions, you’d have to say that “only through ownership” and “no” are both pretty good answers. And “recently” isn’t usually used to mean “85 years ago”, but I guess they’re looking at the big picture here. Regardless, there is an incredible wealth of information from this fascinating period in the numerous Czech archives, so I wish them all the best in their search for whatever it is they’re looking for.

Yet as Charles Hope cautions, archival research is best approached more as an exercise in hopeful serendipity than in one of historical problem-solving: as my friend Sergio Toresella said, “In my life I went twice in an Archivio and I haven’t got a spider in a hole (as we say in Italian).” You get the idea.

Me, I think I’ll stick to the Quattrocento. 😉

Would having “Expert on the Voynich Manuscript” on your CV significantly raise your perceived intellectuality (i.e. an extra ten grand per year on your salary)? It would? Then read on, and I’ll reveal the secret two-stage process that They don’t want you to find out…

Stage One. You start out by pretending to be a Voynich expert. All you have to know is:

(a) That the two jargon terms for the Voynich Manuscript are “VMs” (because “Ms” or “MS” is short for “manuscript”) and “Beinecke MS 408” (because it’s 408th in the Beinecke Library’s collection of manuscripts);
(b) That the VMs lives at Yale University in New Haven (because that’s what the Beinecke Library is part of); and
(c) That the VMs is a mysterious old handwritten book that nobody can read. Not even me!

If you really want, you can also read the Wikipedia VMs page: but apart from the fact that the Voynich Manuscript was [re]discovered in Italy in 1912 by dodgy book dealer Wilfrid Voynich (hence its name), feel free to basically skip the rest.

Incidentally, if you’re ever asked about anyone who has written about the VMs (Newbold, Brumbaugh, Terence McKenna, anyone really), any real Voynich expert would nod sympathetically and say “Poor old X – if only they had known what we know now“. Of course, this is a big fat lie, because we still know basically sod all about the VMs.

Stage Two. You continue by actually becoming a Voynich expert. This is also easy, as long as you can get a working grasp of the following basic statements:-

  • The VMs was probably made by a right-handed European between 1250 and 1640.
    If post-1622, explain how Jacobus de Tepenecz’s signature got on the front
    If post-1500, explain how 15th century quire numbers got on it
    If pre-1450, explain how Leonardo-style hatching ended up in some of the drawings
  • If the VMs is a language, note that its words don’t function like those in real languages
    If the VMs is a cipher, note that it doesn’t work like any known cipher
    If the VMs is nonsense, note that its letters appears to follow unknown rules
    If the VMs’ plants are botanical, note that most don’t resemble real plants

Now all you have to do is to devise your very own really, really lame signature theory. As long as it amuses you and doesn’t trample on the above dull bullet-points too badly, congratulations – you’re right up there with the big hitters! But how should you construct this new theory?

Actually, it’s quite helpful here to project how you feel about your own work onto how you think the original author(s) felt about the VMs. For example, if you think that your own work is meaningless, vacuous nonsense written solely to convince your employers to pay your wages, then you might try devising your own variant of the basic hoax theory template (which argues that the VMs is meaningless, vacuous nonsense written by [insert name here] solely to convince Emperor Rudolf II to pay a rumoured 600 gold ducats).

But be bold in your theorising! Be creative! Perhaps think of some vaguely Renaissance figure you admire (though Leonardo’s already taken, and he was left-handed anyway, d’oh!) or just happen to remember, preferably someone whose name you can consistently spell correctly. Wafer-thin historical connections to herbal medicine, astrology, astronomy, ciphers and mystery are probably bonuses here. So, Nostradamus would be a good ‘un: Queen Elizabeth I not so good.

But remember, you’re not trying to prove your theory is correct here (for what kind of an idiot would attempt that with such scanty evidence, 500-ish years after the event?) Rather, you’re just staking your claim to the possibility that [random person X] might have been the author. And the level of proof required to achieve that is, frankly, negligible.

And hey, even if you choose the name with a pin and a biographical dictionary, if it eventually turns out that you are right, think how unbearably smug you’ll be. Possibly for decades!

Finally: however bad projecting your own life onto the VMs’ blank canvas may be as an historical approach (and believe me, it lies somewhere between ‘rubbish‘ and ‘pants), it is guaranteed to give you plenty of interestingly ironic things to say about the VMs when you’re asked about it at those hip higher-earner parties you’ll be attending. Oh, and at your book-launch too, naturally. 🙂

My fellow Voynich old-timer Jan Hurych has long been interested in various Prague-linked research strands: after all, Prague was home to the first three properly-documented owners of the Voynich Manuscript (Jacobus de Tepenecz, Georg Baresch, and Johannes Marcus Marci), as well as its most illustrious claimed owner (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II).

It is certainly true that Rudolf’s interests and obsessions acted as a powerful magnet to draw wonders from all over Europe to his court. Yet given that the claimed link with John Dee and Edward Kelley is gossamer-thin, it is no less sensible to wonder whether the VMs had been brought to Prague by someone from the town: perhaps someone well-travelled?

I mentioned Rudolf II’s manuscript-collecting astronomer / astrologer / herbalist / physician Tadeás Hájek here recently (who studied in Italy), but Jan Hurych regales me with tales of several others: for one, Hájek’s father (Simon Baccalareus) studied alchemy and collected manuscripts… though what happened to his library after his death is not currently known.

Jan has put together a nice page on one of his favourite Renaissance Czech travelling knights, Krystof Harant de Polzic and Bezdruzic, and his travels from Venice to Crete to Cyprus to the Holy Land to Egypt (etc). But I have to say that if a writer had picked up an intriguing cipher manuscript on their travels, it would be one of the first things they would write about: yet there is no mention. So we can probably rule Harant out, sorry Jan. 🙁

But Jan brings up a rather more full-on Czech Voynich theory, courtesy of Karel Dudek’s Czech webpage (though I used Google Translate, Dudek also put up his own English translation here). Dudek discusses Georg Handsch of Limuz (1529-1578), whose 1563 German translation of Mattioli’s Latin herbal came out a year after Tadeás Hájek’s Czech translation (it even used the same nice woodcuts!) Like Hájek, Handsch was a physician living in Prague, but whose main client was instead Ferdinand II Tyrolský (1529-1595) and his wealthy wife Filipina Welserová (1527-1580).

Dudek got his information from Leopold Selfender’s “Handsch Georg von Limuz – Lebensbild a Arztes aus dem XVI.Jahrenhunderts”: but after a bit of a false start (linking Handsch directly to Baresch, which I doubt would convince anyone), he proposes a possible chain of ownership from Handsch -> Welserová -> Ferdinand II Tyrolský -> Rudolph II -> Jacobus de Tepenecz, before Tepenecz’s estate got looted in the chaos of 1618 and the manuscript somehow ended up with Baresch (with the signature erased).

OK… but why Handsch? Dudek points to the VMs’ botany, and Handsch’s translation of Matthioli’s herbal (though I’d have to say that Hájek fits that bill even better). Dudek also discusses a book by Handsch based on his trips to visit medicinal baths and spas in 1571 called “Die Elbfischerei in Bohmen und Meissen” (eventually published in Prague in 1933), and sees parallels with the VMs’ water section there.

But Dudek gets even more speculative, talking about whether Bartoloměj Welser was financed by Charles V to undertake a (possibly Lutheran?) mission to South America, and drew pictures inspired by exotic plants he saw beside the Orinoco (hey, I thought he was a Womble?)

It’s a good story, but a little lacking in connection to the VMs: and doesn’t really explain why we see (for example) 15th century handwriting in the quire numbers, or even the Occitan-like month names on the zodiac, etc. Perhaps we should really admit that looking for an origin for the VMs in Prague may be a little too hopeful, not dissimilar to the way 19th century German historians’ looked to see if Nicholas of Cusa might secretly have been some kind of Teutonic Leonardo. Nice try… but no cigar.

Here’s a little piece of Voynichiana pinging on the edges of the VMs research radar, concerning Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku (1525-1600), who I thought had not to date been speculatively linked with the VMs. It came from the text accompanying the “Earth and Sky: Astronomy and Geography at the University between the 15th and the 18th centuries” exhibition at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 2005, but also (mostly) reappears in the Wikipedia page. (Which came first? I don’t know!)

Why flag Hájek at all? Jan Hurych once put up a page on him on his Hurontaria site, but (I thought) only as a piece of background research data. It’s true that as personal physician to Maximilian I (in Vienna) and to Rudolf II (mainly in Prague), Hájek would have vetted or commented on anything alchemical, astronomical, astrological or medical entering the Imperial Court prior to 1600. But might there be more to it?

If (as I do) you see a Northern Italian art history link in the VMs’ drawings, then Hájek’s Prague-Bologna-Milan-Prague travels probably jumps out at you too: so, please go on…

In the words of The Joker, “I like him already“. But, errrrm, what about the VMs, then?

[…]Hájek eagerly collected manuscripts, especially those by Copernicus, and may have been the one to convince Rudolf II to procure the infamous Voynich manuscript. […] Throughout his life he also published numerous astrological prognostics in Czech and that is why he was until recently viewed as an „occultist” rather than a great scientist.

I think we can safely say that, apart from the absence of any actual evidence, Hájek is a great candidate manuscript carrier to add to the Voynich story, far better than Dee and Kelley. And what would make it even more poignant is that the pair of them visited Hájek’s house in Prague, which was (according to a fascinating 1999 post on by Michael Pober) “‘by Bethlem’, first mentioned in “A True and Faithful Relation’ p. 212, Prague 1584, 15th August.

Might Hájek have owned the VMs, perhaps buying it during his time in Italy? It would be interesting to see his handwriting and marginalia commentary style, just in case there’s some kind of unexpected link between that and what we see in the VMs. I’ve asked Jan Hurych, but he hasn’t examined Hájek’s handwriting: so I’ll have to pursue this with the Czech libraries myself (more on that soon).

Given that Hájek translated Mattioli’s famous herbal into Czech, it is certainly interesting that the marginalia at the top of f17r appears to have been miscorrected to read “mattior”. I had always guessed that it was George Baresch who had done this – but perhaps it might have been Hájek instead? Something to think about, anyway…

“Hájek was in frequent scientific correspondence with the recognized astronomer Tycho and played an important role in persuading Rudolf II to invite Brahe (and later Kepler) to Prague. His voluminous writings in Latin were mostly concerned with astronomy and many regarded him as the greatest astronomer of his time.”


“In 1554 he studied medicine in Bologna and went to Milan the same year to listen to lectures by Girolamo Cardano, but he soon returned to Prague, where he became a professor of mathematics at the Charles University of Prague in 1555.”


I suppose it was glumly inevitable that the world’s favourite anti-reptilian ex-goalkeeper David Icke would have included the Voynich Manuscript in “The Biggest Secret” (1999), now freely downloadable from Which is nice.

Much as you’d expect, many of the strands of the mainstream story get picked out and respun into a distinctly paranoia-flavoured fabric. For example, “John Dee was the Queen’s astrologer, a Rosicrucian Grand Master, a black magician, and a secret agent for the new intelligence network”: he and Edward Kelley were talking not with angels but “reptilians“. Oh, and Rudolph II was “of the reptilian Habsburg dynasty, another occultist.

Hmmm: I feel another semantically irregular verb coming on:-

  • I am a visionary, a singularity within a vortex of eternal chaos
  • You (singular) are badly compromised, but might be redeemed if you buy my book
  • He/she is reptilian. Oh, and did I mention he/she is reptilian?
  • We are freedom fighters against the infinite evil of The Brotherhood
  • You (plural) are corrupted by prolonged exposure to reptilian media lies and hype
  • They are part of a reptilian dynasty/network/conspiracy that spans the ages

Once you get the hang of how it works, Icke’s stuff almost writes itself. What is he going to say about the Voynich Manuscript? Easy: just take the most superficial reading you can (Newbold’s snail, etc), reptilify it, and summarize it thus:-

“This manuscript is just one example of the level of knowledge the
Brotherhood were working with hundreds of years ago while their other wing, the
religions, were keeping the masses in the most basic ignorance.”

And now someone has posted on David Icke’s online forum, claiming to be a senior member of the Illuminati (though to me it reads more like a publisher PR hack having a bit of fun at Icke-fandom’s expense):-

“Let me just say to you that we tried twice in the past to show a coded glimpse of the nature of our great secret. You have probably heard of the most mysterious manuscript in the world – the Voynich manuscript. No one has ever been able to decode it. The men who wrote it were members of the Illuminati and they were captured and killed before they could release the key to decoding it. The Arthurian legends were our other main attempt to enter popular consciousness and reveal our true purpose. They succeeded to an extent, but our enemies were able to confuse our message by releasing alternative versions of the legends. So, now we are trying again.”

Yeah, rrrright.

Bizarrely, the title of the (probably as-yet-unfinished) book being puffed (“The Soul Camera”) is the same name as an odd camera that has just been released in Japan by Sonaco, that apparently photographs your “aura” in some way. As always, the world is far stranger than conspiracy theorists think – but in a completely different way.

Another day, another Voynich novel to read: but “Enoch’s Portal” by A.W.Hill is certainly one with a heady sense of ambition. The flame the author wants us readers to touch is nothing short of an occult ‘Theory Of Everything‘: a kind of quantum alchemy, linking Cathar euthanasia with Renaissance magic all the way through to Nazi Germany, the Temple of the Sun (though this is the name of a 1969 Tintin film, the Order of the Solar Temple is what is really meant) and the twin modern magics of finance and Hollywood. And the threads binding this bulging mass of ideas together are the Voynich Manuscript, an impossibly virginal woman called Sofia, an impossibly filmic hero called Stephan Raszer, and… former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Ohhhh yes.

The Voynich aspect of the book is straightforward enough: the author buys in to Leo Levitov’s whole Cathar Endura ritual reading of the manuscript, along with all the John Dee fairy dust that people like to sprinkle on the VMs to make an otherwise unpalatable mystery taste that little bit sweeter. Yet the author has a character called Dr Noel Branch describe the VMs as “A theurgic riddle in the guise of soft-core pornography” and insisting that the “the key might lie in those silly illustrations” which are usually dismissed as nonsense: which would seen to indicate that Hill has at least properly engaged with the VMs on some level. 🙂

But for me, Hill gets enough of the history wrong in important places to break the narrative spell: for example, John Dee was never Emperor Rudolf’s alchemist (though Edward Kelley was, and Sinapius / de Tepenecz arguably came close enough too [though one might perhaps call him the “Imperial Distiller”]). Which is a bit of a shame, as this isn’t really a key support for the story.

Speaking of the story: in it, Stephan Raszer’s job is basically to track down rich women lost in cults, empathize with them, show them his own scarred wrists, have them fall in love with his failed-actor good looks, and convince them to transfer their (implicitly sexual) passion for the cult over to him… so that he can then haul them back to the pampered bland existance in Richville they worked so hard to escape from, thereby earning his handsome fee.

But Raszer is not so much a character as a filmic construct, formed from the unholy merging of a Kundalini/chakra-obsessed later Stevan Seagal (though Raszer never actually fights as such), a later Arnold Schwarzenegger (his “I don’t shoot peepul, I only saif cheeldren” phase), and the asexual 1990s James Bonds, who (along with their audiences) were neither shaken nor stirred by the various Dreary Hi-Tech Plot Devices Of Doom placed in their paths.

Females in “Enoch’s Portal” fare little better: Raszer’s partner comes from the same mop-up-all-the-loose-plot-threads school as did Tom Cruise’s impossibly capable assistant in “The Firm” (Holly Hunter); while the empowered modern women Raszer meets are all so, errrm, “enmoistened” by his good looks that they basically make love to him while his soul leaves his body on a brief spiritual holiday. Ghastly stuff.

All the same, there was a good idea in here: though Raszer lives in a supernatural world of walk-ins, succubi, and the like, the cults he deals with are basically spiritual frauds – which leads to an (actually quite interesting) question of whether Raszer is in fact delusional… but this is never obviously addressed.

Really, the problem I had with the book is that (whether it is actually true or not) it comes across again and again as having been written by someone who has watched too many trashy 1990s action movies and taken too many drugs, all the while not really engaging with the world around them. The thought kept returning when I was reading the book that it could all have been redeemed if only the author had done X or pulled back from Y… *sigh*. All in all, I just wish that Hill had had the courage of his convictions and written a screenplay instead, rather than the book of the film in his head. Oh, well!