by Sharon Tucker
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5
Dennis Wheatley (1897-1977) was a best-selling British novelist for at least thirty years, and he is still quite a storyteller even by today’s standards. His black magic books are my favorites, particularly the adventures of the Duke de Richleau, in which he works to attempt restoring the monarchy in France in The Prisoner in the Mask (1957) or rescuing a friend from the designs of a Satanist in The Devil Rides Out (1934). In The Ka of Gifford Hillary (1969), a stand-alone, a man suffers the phenomenon of separation of his soul from his body and watches helplessly as everyone draws the wrong conclusions about his death. ‘Tis the season after all to seek out weird tales to beguile the lengthening evenings as Halloween approaches.
Though not supernatural, The Prisoner in the Mask has a strange premise. It may not be about twins and Louis XIV of France but proves exciting along the same lines. The time is 1903 and de Richleau is young, a product of the age. He lives for amusement but finds himself growing increasingly weary of it since little is beyond his grasp. What shakes him out of world-weariness is that politics in France have taken a socialist turn. Monarchist that he is, this political development allies him to those of similar conservative beliefs that motivate them to try to bring back a descendant of the house of Bourbon to sit on the throne of France once again. Suspend your knowledge of history long enough to enjoy how coups of this sort might work. This is fiction after all and serves as an intriguing introduction to the man who later in his life became the driving force in most of the supernatural novels Wheatley gave us, and it says much about his abilities as a writer that he can make this tale exciting.
Conjuring up the devil may be no easy matter, but it is in the offing as De Richleau discovers in The Devil Rides Out. The Duke’s good friend Simon Aron has come under the influence of former priest, now Satanist, Damien Mocata and his group of like-minded acolytes. Simon is central to locating the Talisman of Set, an amulet if properly used will allow the devil into this plane of existence. Despite his good sense, Simon has been so beguiled that he cannot see the danger he and the world itself will be in should Mocata succeed. Chaos will descend on us all unless De Richleau can prevent the Set ritual’s completion. Frankly, I like his chances.
Gifford Hillary, trusted advisor to the British government through two World Wars, was completely surprised not only to have a top secret weapon fired at him, but also that he awakened from the experience in an altered state. No one could see or hear him as he moved through the home he lived in and among those he has known and loved. Seeing his body prepared for burial was most unnerving as well. In the The Ka of Gifford Hillary, the dilemma (aside from his death and hopeful restoration to life, of course) has to do with protecting the innocent who are wrongfully accused of murder and treason. This is a tricky one since the likeliest person to save him and solve the riddle of re-animation is quickly put into custody. How do we get out of this one?
The above are but three of the paths Dennis Wheatley took in the writing of his most popular esoteric novels. The best of it is that he tells an exciting yarn and exposes the reader to civilization during a span of time from the Edwardian Age in Britain and France on into the mid-1960s. Wheatley is not politically correct for our times, since his attitudes towards races other than his own are colonial, and do not get me started on his firmly planted roots in the patriarchy. However, he knows how to write page-turners and has influenced adventure and espionage writers for decades—Ian Fleming for one. His heroes are genuine and his imagination is fertile. Don’t be surprised if you want to read more of his novels. I do.
You can use this link to purchase these books on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.