It may come as surprise to some of you, but I am neither French nor a Duke. Le Duc De Richleau is the hero in a collection of 11 novels by Dennis Wheatley. For all of the philistines reading my blog, Wheatley was a prolific author of trashy adventure novels. Most of his books were spy novels, but he was also a self proclaimed expert on the occult, and some of his books, 2 of which I have already reviewed, deal with black magic. The Duke De Richleau series contains 3 Black Magic novels, including The Devil Rides Out, perhaps Wheatley’s most famous book.
The Devil Rides Out
Hutchinson and Co – 1972 (Originally published 1934)
It’s been a long time since I read this one, but I remember it well enough to know that you don’t need an in-depth review to decide whether or not you should read it. This book is about Satanists, pentagrams, rituals, goats, spells, and demons. If you know that much and don’t want to read this, you’re a piece of shit. This is definitely one of the best places to start if you haven’t read any Wheatley before. The movie is deadly too, but for the love of Satan, read the book first.
My copy of Devil Rides Out is a fancy hardback reissue. Some of these have illustrations.
Arrow – 1981 (Originally published 1941)
Unlike the other two books in this post, I read this one last week, so it’s still fairly fresh in my memory. This was an enjoyable entry to the series, but it’s a pretty bad book. It sees the Duke and his mates being hired to discover how Nazi U-Boats have been successfully figuring out the trade routes of English ships. Using astral-projection, the Duke figures out that the Nazis are getting their info from an evil Voodoo priest in Haiti. Ok; Voodoo Nazis, sounds great right? Well yeah, that is super cool, but let’s just think about the idea of using astral projection as a means of espionage for a moment. Astral projection gives the Duke the ability to leave his body and go anywhere in the world. The book starts off with him sitting in his apartment in London as the city is being bombed to shit. WHY THE FUCK DID HE WAIT 2 YEARS TO START SPIRIT-SPYING? Why did he not volunteer to start sleep-creeping the Nazis as soon as they entered Poland? Also, out of the Duke’s team of friends, 3 out of the 5 are able to astrally project themselves. If 60% of people can do so, why the fuck were the British government so fucking slow to organize a full-on Astral attack on Germany? It doesn’t make any sense.
Anyways, as soon as they figure out that the bad guy is in Haiti, they decide to head over to kill him in his sleep. I have mentioned elsewhere that Wheatley was not one to be concerned with cultural or political sensitivity, and a trip to Haiti provides several lolworthy examples. This was written in 1941, so the author’s use of the term Jap is excusable, but referring to the “Jap” character as a “dirty little yellow rat” might be a bit much for the modern reader. Failing that, the description of the Haitian natives is sure to offend:
“Those coloured bums have just no powers of organisation at all and it’s like one big tropical slum. If it weren’t for the climate and the masses of fruit that can be had just for the plucking the whole darned lot of them would have starved to death long ago… The niggers live in little more than tents made from tying a few banana palms together.” There’s another thoroughly unpleasant passage describing the parents of a missing teenager whose corpse has just been found in the hospital; “The man and woman were Mulattoes… The woman was a characterless bag of fat which appeared to have been poured into the good-quality silk dress that restrained her ample figure”.
He also refers to one of the black characters as a “wooglie”, although I’m not entirely sure whether or not that’s a racial slur. (My guess is that it probably is.) To top it all off, the book ends in an amazing proclamation on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Mr Wheatley, you charmer!
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I don’t mind reading racist books as long as I’m not giving money to the author. In this case, the author is long dead, and I buy these books second hand. However, the most recent editions of Wheatley’s novels have been abridged, and the horrible racism and misogyny have been removed. This is utterly infuriating. It’s not that the publishers want to prevent the spread of racist ideas; it’s that they want to make Wheatley more palatable to the tumblr generation. Fuck that; if you buy a book about Nazi devil-worshippers but get offended by fictional characters’ racism, you need to kill yourself immediately. Yes, Wheatley was a shit, but if you can’t read a book by a person that you might not like in real life, you’re a stupid fucking loser. If you come across something in a book that makes you uncomfortable, think critically and learn from the experience. Censorship of literature is immoral, and anyone who begs to differ can go and help themselves to a hearty swig of bleach.
The rest of this book is standard Wheatley fare; chases, rituals, beautiful but enchanted young women, demons, the works… The ending involves a bit of the old deus ex machina, and I got the feeling that ol’ Dennis might have been making it up as he went along. I wouldn’t recommend this one as a starting point for his work, but it’s worth a read if you like this kind of garbage.
Gateway to Hell
Arrow – 1974 (Originally published 1970)
I don’t remember much about this one to be honest. It definitely wasn’t as good as Devil Rides Out, but I gave it 5/5 stars on goodreads, so it was obviously thoroughly enjoyable. More diddies on the cover too; can’t go wrong like.
Overall, Wheatley’s writing is bad (He admitted so himself), his plots are silly, and a lot of his ideas are liable to trigger you into oblivion, but I really love his books. There’s something comic-booky about them, and I like to treat myself to one in between heavier stuff. These are just the Black Magic novels from the Duke De Richleau series, and I’ll probably review the others at some stage too.
3 thoughts on “Who is the Duke De Richleau? The Devil Rides Out, Strange Conflict and Gateway to Hell”
Good schtuff, man some very plummy accents in that interview clip. Class looking illustrations, I wonder who did them?
Illustrations by Ian Miller. It looks like there were a few different illustators for the hardback editions.
Hi Duke! many thanks for visiting my blog and for the ‘follow’. You picked a great fictional name!!