19

I read this book very long ago, I forgot most of it.

In this novel, magic works, but it is very close to "our" world. Some historical figures are common with ours.

Some guy tried some magic that did not work as he had hoped, and a curse fell on him. So to survive he had to swap often his mind into someone else's body, and each time he did it, he managed to put his previous body in a fatal situation, so the mind that went into that body died, not to be able to "tell on him" (because of course that mind knew in what body the killer was, it was the mind's original body!). That worked for quite a few times until once he miscalculated and the old body survived. So the surviving other mind tried to get at him, and eventually did succeed.

There were many more things, it was a very rich novel, but I cannot remember anymore to help narrow it down, sorry.

There might have been time-travel, too, but I am not sure.

I think, but am not sure, that the main character is a time traveller stuck in the past, and he is the one who escapes death in the last-but-one body occupied by the killer, and kills the latter at the end. But this is a bit of a reconstruction, I am not really sure of that.

  • Can you explain what you mean by a "rich novel"? – FuzzyBoots Nov 4 at 14:49
  • @FuzzyBooks Rich novel: it is a long one with, as far as I remember, several intertwining threads, the body-swapping killer being only one of them. But all I remember is a jumble, sorry – Alfred Nov 4 at 15:41
  • Was the original curse an attempt to gain immortality that went wrong and forced the villain to repeatedly swap bodies? I vaguely recall a novel with this as the starting point. – John Rennie Nov 4 at 17:24
  • Maybe, but I cannot be sure whether that was precisely the aim of that magic. But it was at the beginning of the novel, yes. – Alfred Nov 4 at 19:04
  • Maybe not the very first chapter, but early enough, I think. – Alfred Nov 4 at 19:12
30

This is The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, 1983. (See all covers)

  • In this novel, magic works, but it is very close to "our" world. Some historical figures are common with ours.

Yes, magic does work. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron and other poets feature heavily. Others are mentioned.

  • Some guy tried some magic that did not work as he had hoped, and a curse fell on him. So to survive he had to swap often his mind into someone else's body, and each time he did it, he managed to put his previous body in a fatal situation, so the mind that went into that body died, not to be able to "tell on him" (because of course that mind knew in what body the killer was, it was the mind's original body!). That worked for quite a few times until once he miscalculated and the old body survived. So the surviving other mind tried to get at him, and eventually did succeed.

From wikipedia:

Amenophis Fikee: a powerful magician, Fikee is the Master's agent in Britain. He leads a clan of gypsies and wears clogs to avoid contact with the ground. After a magical ritual misfires, his mind snaps and he becomes Dog-Face Joe. Bodies that he inhabits grow fur, but he uses a body-swapping spell to flee the curse, poisoning his old bodies to prevent discovery.

  • There might have been time-travel, too, but I am not sure.

There surely was. The story starts in modern times, spends most of the story in early 1800s London but flits back to the 1600s for a chapter or two.

  • I think, but am not sure, that the main character is a time traveller stuck in the past, and he is the one who escapes death in the last-but-one body occupied by the killer, and kills the latter at the end.

Almost spot on, except it's not actually him who kills the latter.

  • Nice find! Definitely a much better match than mine. – FuzzyBoots Nov 4 at 21:04
  • @FuzzyBoots it helps that I re-read it last month! It also fit the description of "rich" novel. There was a hell of a lot going on that wasn't mentioned in the OP. – Moriarty Nov 4 at 21:09
  • 3
    That's it indeed ! Everything fits. As for who exactly killed the killer, I was not quite sure. Coleridge, Byron, now you mentioned them, yes. Bodies that grow fur, also. – Alfred Nov 4 at 22:01
  • 1
    If it's the novel I'm thinking of, there's also something about a Beatle's song. Possibly "Yesterday". – Faheem Mitha Nov 6 at 16:25
  • @FaheemMitha you remember it correctly. – Moriarty Nov 7 at 0:41
6

As per my comment above, Wild Seed (1980) by Octavia E. Butler fits some of the points.

Cover of *Wild Seed*, woman in white dress on a porch

Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex or design. He fears no one until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss and savage anyone who threatens her. She fears no one until she meets Doro. Together they weave a pattern of destiny (from Africa to the New World) unimaginable to mortals.

Doro would be the immortal body-swapper. And, as per your clarification of a "rich novel", this is a book with multiple threads. It is set in historical Africa and the United States, from about 1400-1800 (and serves as a prequel to the Patternmaster series, set in the far future). I haven't seen any references to Doro making that fatal mistake of leaving a host alive, and you didn't mention an immortal female who falls in love with him, but I figure it's close enough to post as a potential answer.

  • Alas, I do remember enough to be convinced that it is not Wild Seed, too many details do not ring any bell. Thanks anyway. – Alfred Nov 4 at 19:13
5

The film Fallen (1998) has many similarities - perhaps inspired by the book?

A demon, thousands of years old, kills people for the hell of it, and eludes arrest by swapping bodies upon touch.

  • Sorry, I looked at the plot of Fallen on wiki. That also does not ring any bell, it is not my story. Thanks anyway – Alfred Nov 4 at 15:44
  • 1
    "A demon [...] kills people for the hell of it" very on-brand for the demon. :) – VLAZ Nov 5 at 6:52
2

Sounds kind of like Charles Eric Maine's novel 1955 called Timeliner where the protagonist is 'flung' forward in time to another body when the one he's in dies, replacing the personality of that body. Every jump result is in a body who is close to someone resembling his wife.

  • Good try, but the answer is reallyThe Anubis Gates. – Alfred Nov 5 at 21:01
  • The body-swapper moves when he wants, not when the body he occupies dies. And he cannot kill this old body outright (or he would die, this is what happens in the end). He must find a slow way of killing, so he moves when the body still lives, and the other mind finds himself in a living body, but doom to die rapidly because of the deadly trap the killer put his old body into (slow poison, drowning, ...) – Alfred Nov 6 at 15:18
  • And in fact once he underestimated the other mind's ability to survive this trap. Or rather twice in a row. Moriarty's remark "it's not actually him who kills the latter" reminded me that in fact the main character recognized his own body inhabited by someone else, not the killer, but his next victim whose body the killer stole by leaving his mind in the main's character body. That guy (in the main's character body) is the one who gets the killer, if I remember correctly. – Alfred Nov 6 at 15:35

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