In 2013, Bloomsbury Publishers announced that they intended to reissue the novels of Dennis Wheatley as e-books. As an avid reader of Wheatley’s stories – many years ago! – I was excited at the prospect of their being on the market again, and indeed at possibly seeing some of them again in print. Out of ‘fashion’ for so long, I had wondered if they would ever make a comeback.
But would I want to read the books again? And if I did, would I enjoy them as much as I had done in the 1960s? Going back to the reading pleasures of our youth is not always a good idea. Our tastes change and evolve; what was enjoyable and thrilling in our teens can sometimes seem bland and ordinary – or utter drivel – a decade or two later.
However, as the new e-books are not expensive I decided to make a small investment and buy a few to reread. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post the results, interspersed with my other reviews.
One of Wheatley’s most popular novels was certainly The Devil Rides Out, from 1934. It was only the second to be published (the first was The Forbidden Territory) and the second to feature the Duke de Richleau, probably Wheatley’s most enduring main protagonist.
‘I feel it is only right to urge [my readers], most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into the practise of the Secret Art in any way. My own observations have led me to an absolute conviction that to do so would bring them into dangers of a very real and concrete nature.’ (Dennis Wheatley)
De Richleau’s friend Simon Aaron has become involved with a bunch of satanists, headed by the evil Mocata, who intend to use him to help find the powerful Talisman of Set. With his young American friend Rex van Ryn, de Richleau attempts to rescue Simon from their clutches. Rex meantime falls in love with the psychic neophyte Tanith, whom Mocata uses as a medium in his nefarious scheme.
With Simon rescued from initiation on Walpurgis Night, the three retreat to the house of their friends Richard and Marie Lou Eaton, where they prepare to defend themselves from the dark forces Mocata sends against them.
‘The blue flames of the black candles set upon the hellish altar went out as though quenched by some invisible hand . . . as the crucifix, shining white in the glow of the headlights, passed through the face of the Goat.’
In case you haven’t read the book or seen the 1960s film, I’ll reveal no more of the plot. Suffice to say the the story climaxes in a satanic temple where the forces of light are pitted against those of darkness to destroy the talisman and prevent a human sacrifice. But the question is, will good prevail over evil, or is the Devil to have his way?
‘Horrified but powerless, they watched the swinging of the censer, the chanting of the blasphemous prayers, and the blessing of the dagger by the Goat, knowing that at the conclusion of the awful ceremony, the perverted maniac . . . would rip the child open . . . while offering her soul to Hell.’
I should confess right away that I don’t believe in black magic. I have witnessed some pretty impressive demonstrations of hypnosis, which I realise may be used for mischief as well as a therapy, but that does not mean there is anything supernatural about it. However, Wheatley’s intermingling of ancient eastern cults with astrology, Voodooism, Christianity and Hinduism carries the reader along and is almost persuasive. That is because he is such a great storyteller.
Politically correct The Devil Rides Out is not; none of Wheatley’s novels are. Many of his ideas and attitudes are formed by his own experience in World War I and in Intelligence during the interwar years. The baddies are all foreign, ie neither British nor American! However, that was a feature of many genre works until the late 20th century.
Did I enjoy The Devil Rides Out this time round? Well, it’s a cracking good story, the sort in which you have to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. And the nostalgia was there too, yet it wasn’t the same. Of course, I knew the ending in advance but I think that 1968 film was a powerful negative to my reading pleasure. Though the late Charles Gray as Mocata gave me the shivers, otherwise the movie spoiled the story, as so often happens. It was just an ordinary horror. Christopher Lee was miscast as De Richleau (he was always much better as a villain) and much of the chilling detail that gave the book its excitement and expectation was missing.
Next up will be Strange Conflict. Let’s see how I get on with that one!