Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

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A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice. 
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is ...

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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

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A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice. 
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 “Witty, inventive, and thoroughly entertaining, this rollicking Faustian adventure grabs the reader and holds him until the very last page.” —Tucson Citizen
"The spot-on work of a talented writer." —Denver Post
 “Howard makes it look easy to paint a soul-stealing murdering necromancer as a sympathetic character; that, folks, is worth the price of admission. Step right up!” —San Diego Union-Tribune
“For anyone whose taste edges towards the intelligent and macabre, this book is a gift." —Fangoria

“Amusing and clever.”—The Free-lance Star  
“Populated with some of the most creative, and odd, characters to be found . . . hysterical and fascinating.”—Bookgeeks
"A delightfully wicked and inventive story." —Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child
“Cross Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with Gregory Maguire's Wicked, and you have this witty and sometimes touching debut novel in the Faustian tradition.”—Library Journal
 “That ole black magic has never been more fun than it is in this deft and quirky Faustian take. A diabolical romp.” —Elle Newmark, author of The Book of Unholy Mischief
Publishers Weekly

When Johannes Cabal, a haughty sorcerer, finds that the absence of a soul is an impediment to his occult studies, he strikes a bargain with Satan in British author Howard's darkly funny debut: in one year's time he'll deliver the bartered souls of 100 unfortunates so that he might repossess his own. Cabal and his vampire brother, Horst, mount a traveling carnival to scour the countryside for men and women desperate enough to consign their souls to an infernal eternity for whatever will relieve their misery of the moment. Cabal proves marginally competent but maximally amusing in his dealings with a competing necromancer, an asylum of escaped lunatics and a staff of slowly decomposing carnies conjured from the dead. Howard capably synthesizes two classic themes of macabre fiction-the pact with the devil and the dark carnival-but the book's episodic structure and unconvincing ending betray it as a freshman effort. Still, Howard's ear for witty banter and his skill at rendering black comedy bode well for the future. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

British scientist Johannes Cabal has sold his soul to the Devil in order to learn the secret of life and death through the art of necromancy but now regrets the price he paid. Satan, being bored, agrees to a deal: if Johannes can get 100 people to sign contracts assigning their souls to him, he will return Johannes's. Accepting the bargain, our hero is given one year's time and a traveling carnival to recruit those to be damned. He enlists the help of his older brother Horst, along with many an emanation of Hell, and a great deal of mischief ensues. Tension mounts as time grows short on Johannes's quest, and much is left to the last to tell. But much is also left untold; Johannes Cabal's duel with the Devil may not be the last we hear from him, and that is fine, for Johannes is a compelling character. VERDICT Cross Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with Gregory Maguire's Wicked, and you have this witty and sometimes touching debut novel in the Faustian tradition. This will appeal to both fantasy and horror fans and readers who enjoy imaginative reinterpretations of fables, myths, and fairy tales, but it's humorous rather than frightening.—Nancy H. Fontaine, Dartmouth Coll, Lib., Hanover, NH

—Nancy H. Fontaine
Kirkus Reviews
Ham-fisted debut tries to get laughs from damnation. Years ago Johannes Cabal sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a necromancer, hence acquiring the ability to raise the dead. Now his time is up, and Satan would like to reclaim his own. But wait a minute-you know how these things work. At the very gates of hell, facing a damnable stack of forms to fill out, Cabal strikes yet another deal with the devil: He's off the hook if he can get 100 souls to sign on the dotted line and turn themselves over to Satan within a year. Because this ratio seems favorable to the devil, he agrees to the new bargain. It turns out that hell is perhaps bureaucracy run amok, because each putative condemned soul (aka "damnee") needs to sign a Voluntary Damnation Form. Assisted by his necrotic and neurotic brother Horst, and despite being warned that Satan only bets on a sure thing, Johannes "borrows" the devil's Carnival of Discord ("dedicated to taking the souls of the unwary") and begins a merry romp over a strange landscape. Problems abound, of course, provoking Johannes' anger and frustration. At one point he tells a co-worker, "You were a waste of protein when you were alive, and now you're dead you're denying some tree sustenance." The Carnival has all the trappings of sleaziness one would expect, including the aptly named Madame Destiny and dolls that sensuously come to life. As time grows short, Johannes begins to wonder whether he'll make his quota. Finally, of course, it all comes down to one soul to sign and a few more hours to go. The genuinely funny moments seem to crop up almost by accident-and ultimately few readers will care. Agent: Sam Copeland/Robinson Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767930765
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 79,601
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan L. Howard is a game designer and scriptwriter who has worked in the computer games industry since the early nineties, notably co-scripting the first three Broken Sword adventure games. This is his first novel. He lives near Bristol with his wife and daughter.  

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
* in which a scientist visits hell and a deal is struck
Walpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. The last night of April. The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.
He stood at a desolate and lonely place where there would be no interruption, no prying eyes. The air smelled metallic with freshly spilt blood; the body of a decapitated virgin kid goat lay nearby. He had no alloyed metal about him but for a thin-bladed sword of fine steel he held in his right hand; that arm was naked, his shirt sleeve rolled up to the biceps. A silver coin wrapped in paper nestled in his waistcoat pocket. Before him burned a fire of white wood.
His name was Johannes Cabal, and he was summoning a demon.
". . . Oarios! Almoazin! Arios! Membrot!" The chanted names faded into the unusually still night air. Only the crackling of the fire accompanied him. "Janna! Etitnamus! Zariatnatmix . . . and so on." He drew a deep breath and sighed, bored with the ritual. "A. E. A. J. A. T. M. O. . . ."
There was hidden meaning in the names he must call, the letters he must chant. That didn't mean he had to approve or even be impressed by them. As he recited the Grand Conjuration, he thought that some magicians might have better served the world by writing crossword puzzles.
Then space distorted, and he was no longer alone.
The demon's name was Lucifuge Rofocale. He stood a little taller than Cabal's six feet, but the bizarre fool's cap he wore—three flopping horns, or perhaps tentacles, ending with arrowheads—made his height vary from moment to moment. In one hand he held a bag containing, at least symbolically, the riches of the world. In the other, a golden hoop. He wore a segmented, studded leather skirt rather like a Roman soldier's. Beneath it, _fur-_covered legs ended in hooves. He had a fat anteater's tail, and a silly little Hercule Poirot moustache. As is often the case with demons, Lucifuge looked like an anatomical game of Consequences.
"Lo!" cried the demon. "I am here! What dost thou seek of me? Why dost thou disturb my repose? Smite me no more with that dread rod!" He looked at Cabal. "Where's your dread rod?"
"I left it at home," replied Cabal. "Didn't think I really needed it."
"You can't summon me without a dread rod!" said Lucifuge, appalled.
"You're here, aren't you?"
"Well, yes, but under false pretences. You haven't got a goatskin or two vervain crowns or two candles of virgin wax made by a virgin girl and duly blessed. Have you got the stone called Ematille?"
"I don't even know what Ematille is."
Neither did the demon. He dropped the subject and moved on. "Four nails from the coffin of a dead child?"
"Don't be fatuous."
"Half a bottle of brandy?"
"I don't drink brandy."
"It's not for you."
"I have a hip flask," said Cabal, and threw it to him. The demon caught it and took a dram.
"Cheers," said Lucifuge, and threw it back. They regarded each other for a long moment. "This really is a shambles," the demon added finally. "What did you summon me for, anyway?"

The Gates of Hell are an impressive structure. A great adamantine finger of rock a mile in diameter and two miles high punches through the surface of the cracked and baking desert plain of Limbo. On one side of this impenetrable edifice are the Gates themselves: massive iron constructions hundreds of feet wide and a thousand high. Their rough, barely worked surfaces are pocked and pitted with great bolts driven through in ragged lines, huge bands of brass running across in uneven ranks. One could be forgiven for thinking Hell's a popular place to get into.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is.
On the outside, one wonders what happens once you pass through that terrible, cruel portal. Some believe that all Hell is somehow crammed within the rock, a place where dimensions mean nothing. Others say that immediately beyond the Gates, within the hollowed rock, is a great chasm that opens into the pit of Hell, and that those stepping within must surely plunge straight to their eternal dooms. Others believe that the rock conceals the top of a very big escalator. Nobody on the outside knows for sure, but everyone wants to find out, and they want to find out because anything—anything—is better than the forms.
Lots of forms. Stacks of forms. An average of nine thousand, seven hundred, and forty-seven of them were required to gain entrance to Hell. The largest form ran to fifteen thousand, four hundred, and ninety-seven questions. The shortest to just five, but five of such subtle phraseology, labyrinthine grammar, and malicious ambiguity that, released into the mortal world, they would certainly have formed the basis of a new religion or, at the least, a management course.
This, then, was the first torment of Hell, as engineered by the soul of a bank clerk.
Nobody had to fill in the forms, of course. But, given that the _alternative was eternity spent naked in an endless desert that has never known night, most people found themselves sooner or later queuing up at the small porter's door set into one of Hell's Gates. There they would receive a form entitled "Infernal Regions (Local Authority) Hades Admission Application—Provisional (AAAA/342)" and a soft pencil.
Congas of hopeful applicants wound around the gatehouse like a line drawn by somebody wanting to find out how much writing you could get out of a box of ballpoints. The formerly quiet desert hummed to a steady drone of sub-vocalised reading and flipped pages. New arrivals and old hands queued patiently at the porter's door to hand in and receive forms. The quickest route through the paper trail necessitated the completion of two thousand, seven hundred, and _eighty-_five, but nobody had yet fulfilled the extremely narrow conditions that would permit such a speedy passage. Most could anticipate three or four times as many, not counting forms rejected for mistakes; the hand-picked team of administrative imps that dealt with admissions didn't like errors at all, nor did they issue erasers.

Through the muttering crowds, stepping over form-fillers and never pausing to apologise, came a pale man. Johannes Cabal was walking to Hell.
Tow-headed, lean, in his late twenties, but with any spirit of that youth long since evaporated, Cabal seemed otherwise unremarkable except for his air of intent, his unwavering advance on the gatehouse, and his clothes.
"Hey, watch it!" barked Al Capone, wrestling with the spelling of "venereal," as Cabal stepped over him. "Why don't you just . . ." The protest died on his lips. "Hey . . . Hey! That guy's dressed! He's got clothes!"
That guy did, indeed, have clothes. A short black frock coat, slouch-brimmed black hat, black trousers, black shoes, a white shirt, and a tidy black cravat. He wore dark-blue tinted glasses with side-baffles, and he carried a black gladstone bag. Unexciting clothes, but clothes nonetheless.
It was the first sensation that the desert had ever experienced. The damned parted before Cabal, who, in his turn, seemed to accept this as his due. Some excitedly speculated that he must be a messenger from the Other Place, that the end times had finally arrived. Others pointed out that nothing in Revelation referred to a man in a black hat and sensible shoes.
Cabal walked directly to the porter's door and slammed his hand on the closed window. While he waited for a reply, he looked about him, and the damned withered beneath his soulless and impassive gaze.
The window snapped open.
"What do ye want?" demanded a weasely man wearing a teller's shade from the other side, a man named Arthur Trubshaw.
Sartre said that Hell was other people. It transpires that one of the other people was Trubshaw. He had lived a life of bureaucratic exactitude as a clerk out in a dusty bank in a dusty town in the dusty Old West. He crossed all the "t"s and dotted all the "i"s. Then he made double entries of his double entries, filed the crossed "t"s, cross-referenced the dotted "i"s in tabulated form against the dotted "j"s, barred any zeroes for reasons of disambiguation, and shaded in the relative frequencies on a pie chart he was maintaining.
Arthur Trubshaw's life of licentious proceduralism was brought to an abrupt end when he was shot to death during a robbery at the bank. He did not die heroically: not unless one considers demanding a receipt from bandits as being in some sense praiseworthy.
Even in Hell, Trubshaw had continued to demonstrate an unswerving devotion to the penny ante, the nit-picking, the terribly trivial, the very things that had poisoned his soul and condemned him in the first place. Given such a mania for order, a den of chaos like Hell should have been an ideal punishment. Trubshaw, however, just regarded it as a challenge.
At first the demons assigned to torment him laughed diabolically at his aspirations and looked forward greedily to the sweet juices that drip from crushed hopes. Then they discovered that, while they had been laughing, Trubshaw had rationalised their tormenting schedules for maximum tormenting efficiency, organised a time-and-motion study for the imps, and, in passing, tidied the underwear drawers of the demon princes and princesses. Lilith, in particular, was mortified.
Never one to squander such a remarkably irritating talent, Satan put Trubshaw in charge of admissions. Hell had grown a new, unofficial ring.
"I want to see Satan. Now." Cabal's accent was clipped and faintly Teutonic. "I don't have an appointment."
By now Trubshaw had noticed the clothes and was considering possible explanations. "And who might ye be? The Archangel Gabriel?" He started the sentence as a joke but modified his tone halfway through. After all, perhaps it was.
"My name is Johannes Cabal. Satan will see me."
"So ye're nobody special, then?"
Cabal gave him a hard look. "It is hardly my place to say. Now, open this door."
Clothes or no clothes, Trubshaw decided he was on pretty familiar ground after all. He produced a copy of AAAA/342 and pushed it towards Cabal.
"Ye'll need to fill this in, mister!" he said, and indulged himself in a chuckle, a horrible noise, like a clockwork crow running down. Cabal gave the form a cursory glance and handed it back.
"You misunderstand. I'm not staying. I have business to discuss. Then I'm leaving." There was a muted gasp from the interested onlookers.
Trubshaw narrowed his eyes. "Leaving, ye reckon? Well, I reckon ye're wrong. This is Hell, sonny. Ye just can't come gallivanting in and out like a lady's excuse-me. Ye're dead and ye're staying. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it is now, y'hear?"
Cabal looked at him for a long, long moment. Then he smiled, a cold, horrid rictus that travelled up his face like rising damp. The crowd went very quiet. Cabal leaned close to Trubshaw.
"Listen, you pathetic little man . . . you pathetic little dead man. You're making a fundamental error. I'm not dead. Tried it once, didn't like it. Right now—right this instant, as I look into your rheumy little gimlet corpse eyes—I am alive. I have come here at great inconvenience, causing considerable disruption in my work, to talk to your seedy fallen angel of a boss. Now, open the door before you regret it."
Everybody shifted their attention to Trubshaw. This was going to be good.
"No, Mr. Fancy-Pants-Living-Fella, I ain't gonna open the door, and I ain't gonna regret it, neither. Know why? Because, as ye spotted so neatly despite them damn foolish spectacles, I'm dead, and, better yet, I'm on the payroll in these parts. My job's to make sure people fill in the paperwork. All the paperwork. Elseways, they don't get in, and right now, right this instant, I'm guessing that means you, too, ye lanky son of a bitch. So—what're ye going to do about that? Eh?"
For his answer, Cabal raised his bag until it was level with the window. Then he carefully opened it and, with a flourish like a stage magician, produced a skull.
Trubshaw shied away momentarily, but curiosity overcame him. "What ye got there, ye freak?"
Cabal's horrible smile deepened.
"It's your skull, Trubshaw." Trubshaw blanched and his eyes widened as he gazed at it. "I . . . 'liberated' it from your old town's cemetery. They still talk about your death there, you know. You've quite passed into local folklore."
"I always did my duty," said Trubshaw, unable to tear his eyes away from the skull.
"Oh, yes. Your name lives on to this day."
"Indeed." Cabal waited exactly long enough for pride to start swelling agreeably in Trubshaw's withered excuse for a heart before adding, "It has become a byword for stupidity."
Trubshaw blinked, the spell broken.
"Oh, yes. Well, what do you expect if you get yourself murdered for the sake of a receipt? Children say, 'You're as dumb as Trubshaw,' to their little playmates. When their parents refer to somebody remarkably stupid, they'll say, 'Well, there goes a proper Trubshaw and no mistake.' You can get souvenirs and everything. It's quite the cottage industry."
He smiled, and something like benevolence slipped into his expression for the first time. It was almost certainly a trick of the light.
Trubshaw incandesced with fury.
"How the heck do you reckon you're gonna get by me now, you goddamned Kraut? You really got my goat now, y'know. By jiminy, it'll be a cold day around here afore I let ye through!"
Cabal affected a yawn. "Your reputation is well deserved, Arthur Trubshaw. You think I stole this skull as a keepsake? Do you know who I am?"
"I don't care who ye are, mister! You can take yer bag a' bones and shove it right up ye—"
"I am Johannes Cabal. Necromancer."
It went very quiet indeed on both sides of the door. Word gets about in the shadowed places. Corpses exchange scuttlebutt and gossip, and they know all about the necromancers, the sorcerers who use the dead. They are the Bogeyman's Bogeymen.
"Now, Arthur, your choice is clear. You can open the door and let me in. Or I can go back to the land of the living in a truly abominable mood, raise you up from this place, put your cankerous soul into something that will do as a body, and then make you wish you were dead all over again. Repeatedly."
Cabal pulled down his _smoked-_glass spectacles far enough to show his hard, humourless eyes—grey flecked with blue that suggested tempered steel and difficult times ahead for any foe—and Trubshaw knew he meant every word. "Which is it to be?"

The Arch-Demon Ratuth Slabuth had been informed that Hell had been invaded and, being a general of the Infernal Hordes, did he intend to do anything about it? Flying devils were sent to reconnoitre the enemy force, but these quickly returned and—somewhat crestfallen—reported that the invaders consisted of one man with a short temper and sunglasses. Intrigued, the general had decided to take the situation into his own hands, claws, and writhing thorned tentacles.
Ratuth Slabuth, a stack of shifting _non-Euclidean angles topped by a horse's skull in a stylised, ancient-Grecian helmet, looked down from a great height upon the insolent human.
"This is Hell," he tried to explain for the third time. "Not a drop-in centre. You can't just turn up and say, 'Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood and thought I'd call by and have a bit of a chinwag with Lord Satan.' It simply isn't done."
"No," said the infuriating mortal. "It hasn't been done. There is a difference. May I pass now?"
"No, you may not. Satan's a very busy . . . um, is very busy right now. He can't go interrupting his work for every Tom, Dick, and Johannes"—he paused for effect, but the human just looked at him with a faint air of what seemed to be pity—"Harry, that is, who turns up demanding audience."
"Really?" said Cabal. "I had no idea. I thought this would be an uncommon occurrence, unique even, but you seem to imply that it happens all the time. Fair enough."
Ratuth was just thinking how well he'd handled things when, suddenly, Cabal pointed directly at him. "I call you liar!" he spat. "I call you duplicitous, mendacious, and thoroughly amateur at both enterprises."
"What?" shrieked the demon general. "WHAT? You, a mere mortal, dare to call me thus?" The eldritch angles unfolded, the darkness about him deepened as he rose like some dreadful bird of prey. "I shall destroy you! I shall rend the very flesh from your skeleton, hollow your long bones, and play your funeral lament upon them! For I am Ratuth Slabuth! Dark General of the Infernal Hordes! Father of Desolation! Despoiler of Innocence! Look upon me, mortal, and know thy doom!"
Cabal, he noticed through his rage, looked calm. Worryingly so.
" 'Ratuth Slabuth,' eh?" said Cabal. "You wouldn't happen to have started your career as Ragtag Slyboots, Despoiler of Milk and Entangler of Shoelaces, would you?"
The effect was electric. Ratuth Slabuth folded up like an especially large deck of cards in the blink of an eye until he was the same height as Cabal.
"How did you know that?" he asked quickly.
"I'm a necromancer. You'd be surprised at the sources we dig up. Now, then, do I get my audience with Satan or do I spread rumours about a certain diabolic general's personal history? Which is it to be?"

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Jonathan L. Howard, Author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Q: You've been working on Johannes Cabal in its various iterations for many years now, how did it feel spending so much time with such nefarious characters?
It's something of a cliché to say that villains are more interesting than heroes, nor is it even very true, so I shan't be trotting that particular phrase out. I would suggest that it is the inner life of the character that makes them interesting, and that is true of the virtuous as much as the vile. Cabal does some rather horrible things, it is true, but he never does them purely to give himself the opportunity to curl his waxed moustache - he's clean-shaven, for one thing - and declaim his wickedness. He always has a reason, and it's usually a good one. I find fictional villains who are evil because they are evil because they are evil unengaging. Cabal, on the other hand, has motivations and drives that most can sympathise with, even if the actions he commits based on those drives can be loathsome. For him, the ends always justify the means, and damn the consequences.

Q: The carnival in your book is used as a device for collecting souls; was there a real life inspiration for the carnival? Do you find there to be something generally sinister about carnivals?
There's no real life inspiration for the carnival, really, but plenty in fiction. The obvious inspiration was Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a deserved classic. I liked the Disney film version, too, and dearly wish that its original incarnation as a screenplay in the 'fifties produced by Gene Kelly - Gene Kelly! - had come to fruition. Something Wicked's Cooger & Dark's Carnival wasn't the first threatening carnival in fiction, and it certainly wasn't the last, but it is probably the best. It was the pernickety question of where such a carnival might come from and how anybody would end up as a proprietor that inspired my novel.

As for how sinister they are, that is to an extent a fictional conceit on my part too. You have to bear in mind that carnivals like that are unknown in the United Kingdom, and I haven't heard of the traditional British travelling fair being transported by train either. The Cabal stories take place in a slightly blurry world where things come together because they aesthetically appeal to me, and not because they're historically accurate; a magical realism of sorts. I wanted an American-style carnival travelling by train, and that's what I got. That said, there are plenty of permanent fairgrounds around the country, and they tended to have a slightly creepy air about them. The real Ghost Trains in Blackpool and Porthcawl, for example, inspired the exterior of the Ghost Train in the novel.

Q: In addition to writing you work as a video game designer, how does that work compare to the experience of writing fiction? Are there any surprising similarities?
There are definite similarities, but I wouldn't say that they are surprising. The games I've worked on tend to have definite narratives, so it's exactly the same process of inspiration, development, pacing, and polishing. The main difference is that a novel can have significant sequences in which physically little happens, which is considered heretical in games. In fairness, there's good reason for that - the player wants to be involved, and there isn't a great deal of opportunity for that in a scene consisting of two people talking over a cup of tea. That's not to say it hasn't been attempted, and pretty successfully. I remember a game a few years ago based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. It hit all its target, being very atmospheric, true to its source, even thought provoking, and all without Pit and the Pendulum platformer or Fall of the House of Usher first person shooter sections. In commercial terms, however, it was never going to be the next "Tomb Raider."

Q: Have you always been a fan or horror and supernatural lore? When did this sort of thing first capture your imagination?
Yes, I've always enjoyed the grotesque and the macabre, right from an early age. I recall that I somehow saw Dana Andrews being chased around the woods by a fireball in Night of the Demon when I was about four or five, and being fascinated. I grew up on a diet of black and white Doctor Who, The Avengers, snatched glimpses of the first few minutes of Out of the Unknown episodes before being sent to bed, and any number of slightly disturbing imports like "The Tinderbox" and "The Singing Ringing Tree." I remember that I got a book for Christmas sometime in the very early 'seventies called Stranger Than People, which was basically a young person's guide to Fortean phenomena, interspersed with stories like The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait, and Poe's Metzengerstein. I loved that book; I read it so many times that the cover fell off.

Q: What sort of research did you do for the book? Was there anything you came across in the process that really surprised you?
I actually did very little research for it; it was mostly lurking in my mind already. I can remember little necessary for day to day living, but if you ask me the birth name of Dr Crippen's wife, I can tell you off the top of my head. I needed a bit of nomenclature for something or other in the running of a carnival, which a librarian friend found for me, but that was the only real piece of research for it. Even things like the Grand Conjuration to summon a demon - which is an authentic ritual, you may be horrified to hear - was in a book I already had. I have a large collection of books on assorted esoterica to the extent that my wife, a bibliophile herself, rolls her eyes and says, "Not more bloody books?" whenever I come home with a bookshop bag and a sheepish expression.

Q: There is a lot of paperwork in your version of Hell. Did you hold an especially bureaucratic job somewhere before working as a game designer?
No, I'm very happy to say. I remember as a child considering the inevitability of growing up and wondering what the worst thing about it would be. It all looked pretty good from that perspective: money, going to bed when you liked, being able to go into any certificate film, and so on. Finally, I spotted a bad point, and that bad point was having to fill in forms. And I was right. There's just something about completing a form that fills me with dread in its consideration, and depression during its commission. Which reminds me; I have two to fill in this week. Oh, joy.

Q: Johannes is a bit of an anti-hero and his motivations are somewhat mysterious. Do you think that he's misunderstood by those around him?
He's definitely misunderstood, although if he were understood, it still wouldn't make him popular. The fact that he's labelled a necromancer gives him a public relations problem, as the vast majority of them are power hungry lunatics. Cabal's ultimate aim is to defeat death, and to have the ability to bring people back just as they were when they were alive, physically, mentally, and spiritually. No lurking demonic possessions, no uncouth brain gobbling. His researches in that direction, however, have not been conducted in the most advantageous light.

Q: What's next for you?
I handed in the submission draft of the second Cabal novel Johannes Cabal the Detective just the other week, so that will be going through the editorial process shortly. I also have to decide what the next Cabal novel after that will be; I have a couple of ideas so it's a case of weighing pros and cons before making a decision. I have a couple of non-Cabal novels, one of which is completed but needs a second draft, and the other is about 80% done. I'd like to get them polished, and then see if we can get them into print.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 117 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

    I found this to be an engaging story with interesting characters. The premise of the book -- Johannes making a deal with the devil to gather 100 souls for him in a year with the help of a demonic traveling carnival in order to get his own soul back -- was what made me purchase this book. It sounded like an interesting story (even if it has been done before). I found myself chuckling quite a bit throughout the book at the author's intended humor. My main complaint about this book is that I wanted more. More of the back-story of Johannes' original deal with the devil where he gave up his own soul. More of his brother Horst's story and how he came into his own predicament. I would have liked more to the descriptions of the bizarre carnival characters. I guess that's part of why I liked this book; because it kept me wanting more. I would definitely like to see a sequel to this book (especially after the way it ends), but would prefer a PREQUEL first so that I can learn more about what makes Johannes the way he is and why he became a necromancer in the first place. If you purchase this book expecting a "horror" novel per say, you WILL be disappointed. However, I read this book with an open mind and no expectations of blood and guts or of how the story would move along. I was not disappointed. I found myself wrapped up in Johannes' quest for the 100 souls, part of me wanting him to succeed and part of me thinking why should he get his soul back when these other poor suckers are losing theirs because of him? It was strange for me because Johannes is not really a likeable character, yet I still found myself rooting for him to get those souls before time ran out. Guess that doesn't say much for the state of my soul! Overall, I really enjoyed this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Jonathan L. Howard's First Foray into Literature, Who'd Have Known?!

    If you enjoy the writing styles of Fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman ('The Graveyard Book') and the cynical humor of Terry Pratchett ('Good Omens'), you'll enjoy this first novel by Jonathan L. Howard.

    The story is 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' with a Faustian twist. While reading the novel, I pictured a Tim Burton-esque landscape with a variety of dynamic characters and a twist in the plot along the way. The story reads like watching a movie, vivid and engaging, it's a great read.

    Without giving away too much, I could hardly put the book down and was ecstatic to find out a sequel is due this summer!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    May I Have Your Signature?

    For fans of writers like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett this is a book that is sure to please. Based off of the Faustian legend of the man who made a deal with the devil twice.
    This book revolves around the second deal that was made. A wager. Johannes must gather 100 souls in years time. To aid him, Satan has loaned him a circus. “I’ve had a hand in quite a few over the years. Absolutely splendid, they are. People looking for a good time drop their guard, you see.” So sets off the circus of discord as it had been labeled in Satans box of old proposals.
    Johannes sets out to seek the help of his brother Horst, who due to an unfortunate experiment gone awry is now a vampire. But Horst has a way with people, they listen to him. But what’s a good wager, without a few bumps along the way? Satans avatars help cause mischief periodically in Johannes journey with the carnival of the damned. Filled with cynical humor, surprises, and mischief around every corner.
    I will say the read itself was quite enjoyable, I love anything circus related, and twisted tales to begin with, but I wanted something more. The experiment that left Horst as a vampire, the original deal made with the devil, and more background story all the way around. However, that should not dissuade you from reading this novel, as it is still a highly entertaining novel that is worth a read.
    If you like this I would also suggest reading: Good Omens by: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet and The Child Thief by: Brom.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2010

    Best book I have read in a while!!

    If you are even remotely interested in magic and the occult written in a sarcastic tone. This is the book for you!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2009

    never read anything like it

    I don't really go in for the supernatural type books but this was a really good read-it had the good and the bad although sometimes it was hard to tell who was who

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An amazing concept falls flat as the reader is left wanting more.

    When I read the dust jacket description for Johannes Cabal The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard, I was instantly intrigued and ordered the book immediately. The concept, a man who bargains with Satan for the return of his soul by managing a circus of the bizarre and supernatural to collect an additional hundred souls, was one of the most unique story ideas I had encountered in a long time. Throw in Cabal's vampire brother, Horst, and one has the making for a grade-A horror novel.

    Johannes Cabal, having traded his soul to Satan for the knowledge of necromancy, raising the dead, finds it difficult to conduct his research and analysis without a soul. He travels to hell to request his soul be returned, and Satan offers him the opportunity to earn his soul back. Within one year's time, Cabal must present to Satan an additional one hundred signed contracts for souls collected. To help his efforts, Satan offers Cabal a traveling circus to serve as the vessel by which he can collect his souls.

    The novel takes entirely too long to get moving. Certainly nobody would consider settling part of a novel in hell as a minor undertaking. While Howard does an excellent job describing the gates at the entrance to hell, the rest of the setting is left to the reader's imagination. Also, the demonic characters Cabal encounters in hell could have been described in much greater detail. Even Satan himself is left to the reader's own interpretation.

    The first few souls collected by Cabal during his carnival's journey are described in unique detail. But the novel quickly jumps almost a year into the future when Cabal has all but two souls remaining. Just how the carnival has helped Cabal to convince these individuals to sign over their souls is left unexplored. The character development is weak, and one finds it very difficult to root for any of the characters in the end. The only truly likeable character is Cabal's vampire brother, Horst, whose role overall is rather small in the entire story.

    While definitely worth reading and enjoyable for the odd characterization of some of the carnival folk, Johannes Cabal The Necromancer is a missed opportunity to take a truly unique concept for a story line and fully develop it. The book totals 290 pages. While I would not necessarily remove any of its existing contents, I would much rather have seen an additional two hundred pages of description and story line added to the novel to really complete its development. Perhaps the story would be better suited for a graphic novel where the illustration could have made up for the lack of description.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A good 2-3 day read

    I am not going to stand here and tell you that this book is the best I have read this year, it is not even the best I have read this month... none the less it is worth a look.

    I gave this book a liberal 4 stars, though in reality I would place it at 3 or 3 and 1/2 stars if not for the "charm" that seems to fuel this book. I would have enjoyed the book continuing for another 50-100 pages in order to give it a more fitting conclusion and elaborate more on some of the side stories that developed in the last 2 to 3 chapters.

    I read this book over the course of three days, I took it to the beach and I found myself getting wrapped up in the story. It has a dark humor that fans of the Dexter series(TV or books) should appreciate, along with decent characters and an entertaining plot. Any book that can make you smile at hell is worth at least a look.

    Buy it for a nice relaxing read, but don't expect Faust.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2014

    Funny and educational

    Not only is it an amusing choice for fans of urban fantasy and steampunk, but it allows plenty of use for the dictionary feature of an ereader. Now I too can astound my companions with antiquated vocabulary tidbits in a manner more colorful than a love of inexpensive classic novel collections can provide.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2014

    This is the best book I have ever read.

    This is the best book I have ever read.

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  • Posted December 27, 2013

    If there's one thing I love, it's getting the jokes. In 'The Nec

    If there's one thing I love, it's getting the jokes. In 'The Necromancer', the author references everything from Bram Stoker to Hammer Horror to Ray Bradbury...and brilliantly. Johannes Cabal is a bad, bad man who has done and continues to do bad, bad things. But the quality of the writing and the vivacity of the dialog kept me reading into the depths of the night despite my amused distaste for some of the incidents. I will assuredly be seeking out the rest of Johannes' bad behavior and laughing myself to sleep.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2012

    Dark and funny

    A different take on the heros journey, for once there are no heros in this story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    Absolutely loved it. Please continue the series!

    Absolutely loved it. Please continue the series!

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  • Posted October 28, 2011

    Fantastic and Hilarious

    I bought this book to chew it up on vacation, and became enthralled. Borrowing from familiar content (with numerous nods to Lovecraft, for example), this novel gives a comfortable, homey feel to the infernal underworld.

    What I most enjoyed was how Howard develops not Cabal's character per se, but the reader's perception of him. Early on, I felt wary - Cabal is engaging and appealing, but still a pariah and for good reason. By mid-novel, I was in his corner entirely, and rejected the moralizing of his brother. But at the end, when his motivations were laid bare, this was all turned around on me. An excellent read.

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  • Posted March 14, 2011

    dont be put off by the title

    i bought this book before i even had my ereader.. it is seriously a great book! johannes finds a way to be interesting, evil, smart, and manipulative. and you'll be rooting for him the whole time!

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  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Very Surprising!

    This is the first book that I purchased with my new Nook Color. It was a bit of a gamble since I only looked at the cover and the brief overview before buying it. I'm glad I did, this book seriously surprised me. The characters were engaging and the story was truly interesting. Give this a shot, you won't regret it!

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  • Posted September 7, 2010

    Exactly what I've been looking for!

    It's dark, moody, witty and sarcastic. I haven't read anything quite like this, ever. The ups and downs of the characters were hilarious one minute and appalling the next. I found myself simultaneously sympathetic and disturbed by Cabal's actions throughout the book, but in the end I just wanted more.

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  • Posted July 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Worth The Read

    I would just like to say before I state my review I found this book by accident was not planning on reading it at all. Now the fact is I did read it at first I was not quite sure about this book. I decided to read it despite what I was thinking, and I would like to say there really is not anything like it I have ever read. The more I actually got into the book it left me wanting to read more. It was sarcastic, cynical, and a darker tone however I will say don't except a "horror" blood-filled novel you will be disappointed. I did not give this five stars due to the simple fact that I wanted to know more about how did Johannes get to this point. What I loved by far most about the book was the main character was not likable at all, and that interested me; In most novels the main character is a well liked one (or becomes one to the reader) he however throughout the entire novel is not. The sequel is out however I would have also liked to see like TWTaz said a prequel to the first novel. In all I would consider it a good read.

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  • Posted July 28, 2009

    Wicked and Offbeat

    I was unsure when I started this book as it's not what I normally read but it sucked me right in with its originality and had me laughing out loud. I saw in a review where there may be a sequel. . . Please, please, please

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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