Some background: The Arcanum is a secret society of occult investigators, a supposedly brilliant quartet of unlikely heroes: Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft and the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau.
There are problems with the choice of characters in more than one way - too many ways in fact to go into in the space of a shortish blog post with very limited readership. Suffice it to say, the most glaring problem is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not his legendary creation, Sherlock Holmes. Nor was H.P. Lovecraft Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary creation, Sherlock Holmes (supplemented by a heaping brainful of paranoia and an obsession with the occult), and yet Wheeler insists on upon treating both characters as if they were. And Harry Houdini? Well, one can only ask why the hell he would want to secretly investigate the occult (a question that never comes close to getting answered). As for Marie Laveau, why the most feared and respected voodoo pracitioner ever must resort to lifting her skirts and pretending to be a prostitute every time the group gets into a tight spot is beyond my understanding.
Toss into this motley mix of unlikelyhood The Book of Enoch, Alastair Crowely, fallen angels, an annoying thug of a detective, and a far ranging plot to expose God's mistakes and bring about the end of the world, and you've got the makings for some good clean fun. Unfortunately, it's not. There's something in Wheeler's execution that falls flat, perhaps beneath the weight of his purple prose (Lovecraft could get away with this, Wheeler, sadly, cannot). But it's really the sense of everything being massively and incredibly contrived that made me squirm. Wheeler bends and twists his characters to suit his needs, mutilating all sense of narrative authenticity as effectively as the big, bad Evil kills its victims. Like I said, it made me impatient.
I love a good, trashy romp - I really do. I just like my good, trashy romps to cop to what they are and do it in a genuinely trashy, not-trying-to-be-anything-else way. Unfortunately, Wheeler's The Arcanum fell short there. He managed to turn what could have been a fun and diverting diversion into a pretentious, unintuitive clockwork. That he used figures like Doyle and Lovecraft to do it just makes it feel all the more like an eldritch failure.