The Dim-Post

August 23, 2012

The Devil Rides Out revisited

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 8:45 am

A couple of days ago I stumbled across this article in the Fortean Times about Dennis Wheatley, an occult thriller writer of the mid 20th Century. Wheatley was insanely popular in his day, mostly forgotten about now: his first success and most famous book was The Devil Rides Out, which I read when I was a teenager – probably because Wheatley’s books usually had naked women on the covers.

I’ve been meaning to re-read this book for years, and the Fortean Times article inspired me to track it down. The Victoria University library is a research library – not that great for fiction, but for some reason it has a huge collection of mid-20th century pot-boilers called ‘The Lyell Boyes Crime Fiction Research Collection’, which features a number of Wheatley novels. The first thing I did was check the author’s preface, which had stuck in my mind over the decades – with good reason. It is a masterpiece of marketing:

I desire to state that I, personally, have never assisted at, or participated in, any ceremony connected with Magic – Black or White….Should any of my readers incline to a serious study of the subject, and thus come into contact with a man or woman of Power, I feel that it is only right to urge them, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into the practice 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.

The VUW edition of The Devil Rides Out doesn’t have a naked chick on the front cover, but it does have an ad for Oxo stock cubes on the back. And on the inside back cover we find:

This is why the publishing industry is in trouble: lack of revenue diversity. They’re not even trying any more.

Anyway, I’m about half-way through The Devil Rides Out. It is (a) a completely brilliant thriller, and (b) an unintentionally hilarious comic novel, due to Wheatley’s reactionary politics and incidental bigotry. The villains of the book are – in best Famous Five tradition – mostly foreigners, including ‘a bad black’ from Madagascar, ‘a grave-faced Chinaman wearing the robes of a mandarin, whose slit eyes betrayed a cold merciless nature’, ‘a fat oily Babu (he means Indian) in a salmon pink turban’, and a ‘red faced Teuton, who suffered the deformity of a hare-lip.’ The hero of the book is the wise and erudite Duke de Richleau, an exile from France after a failed attempt to overthrow the evil socialist government and restore the rightful Monarchy. Richleau is an endless font of pseudo-scientific wisdom. My favorite of his lines (so far) is when he’s contemplating a terrible Satanic ritual and warns his companion ‘Be careful. Half of those Satanists are probably epileptics.’


  1. Auckland Libraries – bless ’em – have a copy in the basement.

    Comment by dfmamea — August 23, 2012 @ 9:10 am

  2. Ronald Frankau looks like he has been indulging in precisely activity that the preface warns us of.

    Or possibly that soulless, hypnotic gaze is the result of ingesting too much Seagift. An excess of Turtle Oil will do that to a man.

    Comment by Gregor W — August 23, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  3. I think a couple of Jasper Fforde’s books had ads at the back. Admittedly, they were from the universe the books were set in.

    Comment by lyndon — August 23, 2012 @ 10:50 am

  4. @ Lyndon

    What do you think of Fforde’s work?

    I got through a couple (Eyre Affair and Over Easy) and thought they were OK. The humour quickly lost its charm, became tedious and ‘hack’, and I couldn’t wade through any more.

    Comment by Phil — August 23, 2012 @ 11:50 am

  5. Shaving’s been a prick ever since they ran short of turtles.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — August 23, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  6. I always wondered why you never saw a bearded turtle. Nice to have solved that little mystery.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — August 23, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  7. “Duc de Richleau”? Ouch

    Comment by Daedalus — August 23, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

  8. The author’s preface reminds me of Dirk Gently’s denials that he is a vampire (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency–Douglas Adams, brilliant, of course).

    Comment by Roger Parkinson (@RogerParkinson) — August 23, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

  9. Thank you for reminding me of how bloody awful those books were. Yes, it was the pictures of naked women that attracted me.
    The text was very disappointing to a pubescent..
    I shudder to think what adult readers of that stuff thought.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — August 23, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

  10. The Devil Rides Out was made into a Hammer Horror too! Starring Christopher Lee. Rules hard (if you like that stuff, which I do).

    Comment by Michael — August 24, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

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