The Satanist – Dennis Wheatley
Heron Books – 1972 (Originally published 1960)
While trying to infiltrate a gang of communists responsible for the death of his coworker, Barney Sullivan, an Irish Lord working as a spy in England, falls in love. Unbeknownst to him, the woman he falls in love with is both a) the vengeful wife of the man he himself has set out to avenge and b) a former lover of his own. One thing leads to another and pretty soon, Satanists get their evil claws on an atomic bomb and plan to use it to bring about the downfall of civilization.
Much like the rest of the plot, the means by which the antagonistic force of the story transforms from Communism to Satanism is complicated, confusing and a bit silly. Just know that it involves a disgusting Indian man with an upset tummy, a pair of psychic twins and week’s worth of casual rape. Sensible, believable plotlines weren’t what made Dennis Wheatley a best selling author though, and, silly as it is, I really quite enjoyed the story. The real problem with this text is the writing itself.
Like the other Heron editions, this book has a few illustrations thrown in here and there.
At 440 pages, this is the longest Wheatley novel I’ve read to date. It is not generally considered to be one of his better books, although I reckon that it would have been if he had spent a few weeks editing it and trimming it down to the 270-300 page range. As it is, this book is painfully wordy. The story will get to an interesting bit and Wheatley will proceed to dampen the excitement by giving two detailed paragraphs on how the characters had to go back to their apartments to shower, eat and spend a few sleepless hours tossing and turning in bed before rising to action. This really could have been a lot better.
A few years ago, I reviewed To the Devil – a Daughter by Wheatley. If you look online, you will come across suggestions that this book is a sequel to that one, but that’s not really the case. I know that books in Wheatley’s other series don’t depend on the reader having read the previous entries, but the books in those series at least feature the same protagonists. Both To the Devil – a Daughter and The Satanist feature Colonel Verney as a fairly important character, but he’s the protagonist in neither, and aside from a couple of brief references, the two texts are quite separate. I was a little disappointed with this as I hoping for the Crowleyesque Canon Copely Syle from To the Devil – a Daughter to make a return. Speaking of Crowley, The Satanist includes repeated allusions to the “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” mantra of the Devil worshippers. It seems that Wheatley didn’t differentiate Thelema from Satanism. It should be noted though that Wheatley was personally acquainted with Crowley and probably knew more about him than you do.
Like Wheatley’s other novels, The Satanist contains lots of old fashioned racism. There’s a part in here where he describes the revulsion that any white woman is bound to feel after touching the skin of any man that isn’t white. It’s still a bit weird to see words like nigger and chink being used so casually in literature. The two protagonists of the story are Irish, and although they let out a few Bejasuses when they’re excited, they don’t come across too badly. That being said, Mary, the female lead, is a former prostitute. At first I thought this depiction might have been an attack on the loose morals of Irish women, but Wheatley is surprisingly sympathetic towards her. He makes it very clear that she only has sex to get ahead when it is absolutely necessary, pretty progressive stuff for our Dennis!
It’s been almost 2 years since I read a novel by Dennis Wheatley, and after reading this one, I’ll be in no hurry to return to his work. I mean, I will eventually get through all of his Black Magic novels, but I don’t think I’ll bother with much (if any) of the other stuff he wrote.