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Although most of the horror stories I read are quite recently written there are some older ones that I enjoy. Dennis Wheatley seems to be well ahead of his time when it comes to scaring the life out of me. Probably his best known book is called The Devil Rides Out which was written in 1934 and is about the occult.
The story starts in London in the 1920s and also involves further afield areas of Southern England. There is a cult that worships the devil and one of the characters Simon is lifted from the group by his friends. One of the friends Rex, falls in love with another member and finds it hard to leave them behind.
Knowing that the future of Simon and the woman he loves is at stake makes every little set back seems insurmountable for Rex and his fellow helpers and the feeling of fear is present all the way through.
Throughout the book there are references to black magic and it may be worth pointing out that I was only about 13 the first time I read it so I did let my imagination run riot. It is well written but I imagine it was written for someone much older than me.
The characters are all quite likeable except of course for the evil rulers of the cult and the satanic sections are the forerunners of the scenes that are used in much more modern films and books. There are some chapters that I rushed through in some cases because I could not wait to find out what happened but sometimes because I wanted to get past the scary bits.
There were a lot of future films made on the back of this book as it was The Devil Rides Out which was one of the first books to introduce the occult to many people. It is written in the language of the 1930s and as the characters are in the main middle to upper class it was written in what I consider an old fashioned way. It includes big cars, exotic locations and the fight between good and evil, darkness and light.
Having re read it a few times, there is no longer the same level of fear that I originally felt but I can still imagine how difficult it must have been to face up to the unknown and realise what the outcome of failure was.
This book will not be for everyone and as I have mentioned it is written in a very old fashioned way, but if you like the idea of fear that is not computer generated then this might just be the book for you.
The Devil Rides out is Dennis Wheatley most famous work, he's best associated with the stories of the occult but in fact they are only a small fraction of the total books written by Wheatley. This book was adapted by the Hammer House of Horrors, where the fantastical demon aspect of the book is emphasised and rather ignores the books more abstract elements involved in alternate religions and beliefs far older than Christianity.
One of Wheatleys more famous character is Duc de Richleau, a French aristocrat in his fifties/sixties. He's urbane, good looking in a French grandfather way, he was a fighter in the first world war and a man with many connections in the various governments around Europe. The Duc is one of the characters where there are several novels set in the time of the second world war but in this novel the war has yet to start and the world is enjoying the relative peace of the 1930's. However, there are still dark forces around but in this case they are demonic rather than Nazi.
So one of the Duc's friend's comes with a disturbing tale of cult worship and a desire for a mysterious female called Tanith. The Duc then reveals he's an expert on the occult and has been battling the dark forces for many years whilst being an accomplished white witch. The Duc along witha friend Rex, Simon the original friend in need and Tanith then confront the devil worshipper Mocata. The Duc uses his skills to overcome the evil devil worshippers.
the books is a great rolling read, the reader has to make two assumptions firstly that devil worshipping does exist and that the worship has a real effect on the real world. In this we are given plenty to chew on as a reader, demonic chants, evil devil worshippers, lots of gothic gore with symbolism through out. There is a claustrophic feel when ever the reader is directly confronted by the devil worshippers, Wheatley uses the tool of giving the devil worshippers almost no lines in the book, they are a unseen frightening force and there lack of real presence makes them all the more threatening.
The Duc is the hero of the novel, but Wheatley uses a tool of having an older experienced man with two younger fitter males who can do the dirty work of fighting the demon worshippers, the Duc of course is therefore perfectly placed to look after the beautiful Tanith. Tanith is of course has a dual role in the book, she's the focus of the enemies wrath adn the focus of the heroic acts from Rex and Simon. She is of course beautiful but also has a scary almost non-human character wondering which of the two men will get the hand of this strange girl.
Finally the devil worshipping section has been much debated but the scenes are well written and clearly well researched and though the reader has to take a pinch of salt when they read they know in the back of their minds that the actions depictions could never happen and this is a work of fiction.
Wheatley style is to charge full speed into the action sequences but unlike modern adventure/thriller writers he takes time to explain whats happening when the opportunity comes along for the books characters. This is decent well written adventure stuff and enjoyable to read.