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Authors: Dennis Wheatley

Evil in a Mask

BOOK: Evil in a Mask
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Dennis Wheatley

Edited by Miranda Vaughan Jones


Wing-Commander Anthony Wellington, DSO, DFC, to whom I owe my knowledge of Brazil in that country's early days; and to his dear wife, with most grateful thanks for their many hospitalities during my visits to Rio.




The Field of Eylau

The Bill is Presented

An Appalling Future

A Desperate Gamble

Fickle Fortune

The Greatest Statesman of his Age

Once more a Secret Agent

The Veiled Crown

Crisis in the Seraglio

The Hovering Hand of Death

The Road to Isfahan

The Land of the Great Sophy

The Old Sweet Game

The Call of Love

Of Intrigues in Spain

To Be or not to Be?

The Biter Bit

The Ghastly Journey

A Bolt from the Blue

The Betrayal

A Very Ticklish Situation

Back into the Battle

Caught in the Web

Surprise at Erfurt

Roger to the Rescue

The Great Conspiracy

The Gathering Clouds

Mission to Paris

Death on the Rhine

A Note on the Author


Dennis Wheatley was my grandfather. He only had one child, my father Anthony, from his first marriage to Nancy Robinson. Nancy was the youngest in a large family of ten Robinson children and she had a wonderful zest for life and a gaiety about her that I much admired as a boy brought up in the dull Seventies. Thinking about it now, I suspect that I was drawn to a young Ginny Hewett, a similarly bubbly character, and now my wife of 27 years, because she resembled Nancy in many ways.

As grandparents, Dennis and Nancy were very different. Nancy's visits would fill the house with laughter and mischievous gossip, while Dennis and his second wife Joan would descend like minor royalty, all children expected to behave. Each held court in their own way but Dennis was the famous one with the famous friends and the famous stories.

There is something of the fantasist in every storyteller, and most novelists writing thrillers see themselves in their heroes. However, only a handful can claim to have been involved in actual daring-do. Dennis saw action both at the Front, in the First World War, and behind a desk in the Second. His involvement informed his writing and his stories, even those based on historical events, held a notable veracity that only the life-experienced novelist can obtain. I think it was this element that added the important plausibility to his writing. This appealed to his legions of readers who were in that middle ground of fiction, not looking for pure fantasy nor dry fact, but something exciting, extraordinary, possible and even probable.

There were three key characters that Dennis created over the years: The Duc de Richleau, Gregory Sallust and Roger Brook. The first de Richleau stories were set in the years between the wars, when Dennis had started writing. Many of the Sallust stories were written in the early days of the Second World War, shortly before Dennis joined the Joint Planning Staff in Whitehall, and Brook was cast in the time of the French Revolution, a period that particularly fascinated him.

He is probably always going to be associated with Black Magic first and foremost, and it's true that he plugged it hard because sales were always good for those books. However, it's important to remember that he only wrote eleven Black Magic novels out of more than sixty bestsellers, and readers were just as keen on his other stories. In fact, invariably when I meet people who ask if there is any connection, they tell me that they read ‘all his books'.

Dennis had a full and eventful life, even by the standards of the era he grew up in. He was expelled from Dulwich College and sent to a floating navel run school, HMS Worcester. The conditions on this extraordinary ship were Dickensian. He survived it, and briefly enjoyed London at the pinnacle of the Empire before war was declared and the fun ended. That sort of fun would never be seen again.

He went into business after the First World War, succeeded and failed, and stumbled into writing. It proved to be his calling. Immediate success opened up the opportunity to read and travel, fueling yet more stories and thrilling his growing band of followers.

He had an extraordinary World War II, being one of the first people to be recruited into the select team which dreamed up the deception plans to cover some of the major events of the war such as Operation Torch, Operation Mincemeat and the D-Day landings. Here he became familiar with not only the people at the very top of the war effort, but also a young Commander Ian Fleming, who was later to write the James Bond novels. There are indeed those who have suggested that Gregory Sallust was one of James Bond's precursors.

The aftermath of the war saw Dennis grow in stature and fame. He settled in his beautiful Georgian house in Lymington surrounded by beautiful things. He knew how to live well, perhaps without regard for his health. He hated exercise, smoked, drank and wrote. Today he would have been bullied by wife and children and friends into giving up these habits and changing his lifestyle, but I'm not sure he would have given in. Maybe like me, he would simply find a quiet place.

Dominic Wheatley, 2013

The Field of Eylau

Roger Brook had been lucky, very lucky.

On this night he was in his late thirties and, from the age of nineteen, he had spent at least half the intervening years on the Continent, acting as a secret agent for Britain's great Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. Yet only once had he been caught out, and then by a friend who shared his views on the future of Europe, so had refrained from having him shot as a spy. He had passed unscathed through the hell of the French Revolution, been present at the siege of Acre, at the Battles of the Nile and Jena and numerous other bloody conflicts. Yet only once, at Marengo, had he been wounded.

But now, at last, his luck had run out.

Meeting Roger in a salon or ballroom, the sight of him would have made most women's hearts beat a little faster. He was just over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and slim hips. His brown hair swept back in a wave from his high forehead. Below it a straight, aggressive nose stood out between a pair of bright blue eyes. From years of living dangerously his mouth had become thin and a little hard, but the slight furrows on either side of it were evidence of his tendency to frequent laughter. His strong chin and jaw showed great determination; his long-fingered hands were beautifully modelled; and his calves, when displayed in silk stockings, gave his tall figure the last touch of elegance.

Even on that February morning of 1807 as he sat his fine charger, booted and spurred, his long, fur-lined cloak wrapped tightly round him against the bitter cold, a woman's eye would have singled him out from among the score or more of gallant figures that formed a group a little in the rear of the Emperor
Napoleon. But his state was very different now, and he had little hope of living through the night.

Fifteen months earlier, two great turning points had occurred in the war that Britain and France had been waging—with only one short interval of uneasy peace in 1803—for the past fourteen years. In October 1805, Nelson's victory at Trafalgar had, at last, freed England from the threat of invasion. But in the same month Napoleon had dealt a shattering blow at the Third Coalition which Pitt, with dogged determination, had built up against him. At Ulm the Emperor had smashed the main Austrian army; and, in November, entered Vienna in triumph. A month later, at Austerlitz, he had inflicted another terrible defeat on both the Austrians and their Russian allies. Utterly crushed, the Austrians had sued for peace. By the Treaty of Pressburg he gave it to them. But it cost the Emperor Francis nearly three million subjects and one-sixth of his revenue. This loss of sovereignty over numerous territories led, in the following August, to Francis' resigning the greater Imperial dignity and becoming only Emperor of Austria. Thus ended the Holy Roman Empire after an existence of over one thousand years.

Meanwhile Napoleon, anxious to keep Prussia quiet while he dealt with Russia, entered into negotiations with King Frederick William III. As French troops were occupying the British territory of Hanover, the Emperor was able to offer it as a bribe; and the shifty, weak-willed King agreed to accept it as the price of an alliance signed at Schönbrunn.

But neither party was being honest with the other. Napoleon was secretly putting out peace feelers to the British Government, which included an offer to return Hanover to Britain, while Frederick William was in secret negotiation with the Czar Alexander to double-cross the French. When the Emperor and the King became aware of each other's treachery, both realised that war between them was inevitable. In September the King, gambling on the traditional invincibility of the Prussian Army, had sent Napoleon an ultimatum. It proved a futile gesture, since the dynamic Emperor was already on
the march, and he advanced with such speed that by mid-October the two armies clashed.

Prussia had for so long sat timidly on the fence that her army had lost all resemblance to the magnificent war machine created by Frederick the Great; whereas that of France was inspired by an unbroken succession of victories, and was superbly led. At Jena, by a swift concentration of the corps of Lannes, Soult, Augereau, Ney and the Guard, Napoleon overwhelmed one-half of Frederick William's army. At Auerstädt, Davoust, although outnumbered by two to one, destroyed the other.

Relentlessly pursued by Murat's cavalry, the surviving Prussians retreated to the east. At Erfurt sixteen thousand of them surrendered to him. Fortress after fortress fell, and on the 25th of the month, Davoust captured Berlin.

It was in November, while in the Prussian capital, that the Emperor had initiated his new policy designed to bring Britain to her knees. Known as the Continental System, it decreed that every port under the control of France and her Allies should be closed to British shipping. At that date England was the only country that had undergone the Industrial Revolution. It was through her trade that she earned the great wealth which enabled her to subsidise the armies of her Allies on the Continent. So Napoleon hoped that by depriving her of her European markets he would not only render her incapable of supplying such subsidies in future, but also bring about her financial ruin.

Meanwhile, his armies were pressing on into Prussian Poland and, on December 19th, he established his headquarters in Warsaw. Soon after Jena, Frederick William had tentatively asked for peace terms, but Napoleon refused to negotiate unless his enemy would retire behind the Vistula, cede to him the whole of Western Prussia and become his ally in the war against Russia.

BOOK: Evil in a Mask
12.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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