Authors: Dennis Wheatley
Edited by Miranda Vaughan Jones
As several chapters of this book concern
Marshal Bernadette, the founder of the
present Royal House of Sweden, I take
great pleasure in dedicating it to my friend
who has done so much to popularise the
Swedish translations of my books.
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 âall 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
On a lovely morning in late September 1809, a man and a woman were sitting at a table on the vine-covered terrace of the inn at the little village of Winningen, on the Moselle.
The man was forty-one and the woman just a year older. Their clothes were of the finest quality, but slightly rumpled from hasty travelâwhich was not to be wondered at, since forty-eight hours earlier they had been fleeing for their lives, and had with them only the garments they were wearing. But now they were lazily partaking of a bottle of good wine, their faces as serene as the river which flowed swiftly past to join the Rhine, eight miles downstream at Coblenz.
Apart from them the terrace was deserted, and there were few passers-by in the street, for the vintage was in progress and every hand needed to get in the grapes before the coming of the first frosts. Yet anyone catching sight of them could not have failed to be struck by the strong, resolute face of the man and the voluptuous beauty of the woman.
He was Roger Brook, the son of the late Admiral Sir Christopher Brook; but he was wearing a French uniform and had spent more than half his life on the Continent. Circumstances had led to his assuming a second identity as
le Chevalier de Breuc
, a native of Strasbourg. For many years Billy Pitt had looked on him as his most
resourceful secret agent. He had served the Prime Minister well all through the French Revolution and later, as an A.D.C. to General Bonaparte, he had risen to become
Colonel le Baron de Breuc
, a Commander of the Legion of Honour and one of the most trusted members of the Emperor's personal staff.
His companion's name was Georgina, and she was now the very recent widow of Baron von Haugwitz. But she too was English by birth, the only daughter of a Colonel of Engineers who had made a fortune from inventions, and a gipsy mother. It was to the former that she owed an exceptional education and a fine intelligence; from the latter she inherited her superb dark beauty, her abundant vitality and, at times the gift of foretelling the future.
Roger took from his pocket a news sheet that had been printed in Coblenz the previous day and given to him by a waiter when they had been breakfasting in the coffee room earlier that morning. For the dozenth time he read the leading article, which ran:
It is reported that the Herr Baron Ulrich von
Haugwitz and a French lady, the Baronne de Breuc, were found dead yesterday in the most extraordinary circumstances. The questioning of the servants at the Herr Baron's Schloss Langenstein leads to the belief that the two were lovers. For some utterly inexplicable reason, they elected to consummate their passion for one another in a wine press. Presumably they fell asleep there, and failed to wake when, in the late afternoon, vintagers tipped hods of grapes into the press upon them. Or it may be that they were swiftly suffocated
Their presence at the bottom of the vat remained undiscovered until the must running from the press
took on an unusual pinkish colour. The
ordered the press to be emptied. Only then, when a ton of grapes had been removed, there was revealed, to the amazement and horror of those present, the naked, flattened corpses of the Herr Baron and the French Baronne
The dead woman had been Roger's third wife, Lisala: the beautiful but incredibly evil daughter of a Portuguese diplomat, the Marquis de Pombal. Roger had met her in Tehran when a member of a mission that Napoleon had ent to Persia, and her father had been Ambassador to he Shah. They had entered on a hectic love affair. Many months later they had sailed together to Brazil, when the Portuguese Royal Family had gone into exile to escape from the French, who were about to enter Lisbon.
In Brazil, Lisala had told Roger that she was pregnant by him. They had planned to elope, but had been betrayed by a Negro slave. In the mÃªlÃ©e that followed, she had driven a stiletto through her father's back and killed him. Roger had got her away to a British frigate lying in Rio harbour. He already knew her to be a nymphomaniac and utterly unscrupulous in gaining her own ends; but, as he believed her to be Carrying his child, he had felt bound to marry her.
In Europe, matters had gone from bad to worse. Once more in the service of Napoleon, Roger had accompanied him to the Conference of Erfurt. There Lisala had given birth to a black baby. The child's father had been the Negro slave who had betrayed them. Horrified, Roger would have rid himself of her, but she knew the double life he was leading and threatened to reveal that he was an English spy.
At Erfurt, Roger had again met Georgina: the first and only truly great love of his life. He and Lisala had gone to stay at Schloss Langenstein with Georgina and
her husband. Her marriage had turned out most unhappily. Von Haugwitz was a homosexual, but his fondness for boys did not prevent him from becoming Lisala's lover. In lust and depravity, they proved to be a pair. By then Roger found it impossible to restrain her. For her amusement, financed by the Baron, she secretly opened a brothel.
Sent on a mission from Vienna to Paris by the Emperor, Roger had returned unexpectedly and overheard the Baron and Lisala plotting to murder him and Georgina. Lisala was boundlessly extravagant. She had a great fortune in Portugal but, owing to the war, could get no money out of that country. Von Haugwitz was also at his wits' end for money. Georgina, too, was very wealthy, but her money was in England. Her death would enable von Haugwitz to claim her fortune as soon as the war was over. With Roger also dead, Lisala and the Baron would be able to marry and share this great wealth.