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: The Life and Times and Dennis Wheatley

by Phil Baker

A beast at 702 pages. 

"It is not only the Hammer films based on Dennis Wheatley's novels that are full-blooded, sensational entertainment, so was Wheatley's life, brilliantly evoked by Phil Baker. This gripping biography draws out all the comedy from Wheatley's history, from his childhood in a family of wine merchants who were dedicated to social climbing (the scrambling for status never left Wheatley either, even in his 70's he was proudly joining gentlemen's clubs such as White's) to his experiences in World War One. Wheatley's main ambition as a soldier was to join a socially acceptable regiment, but the Westminster Dragoons wouldn't have him because he couldn't ride (he claimed that he could but his first time on a horse rather exposed this lie), he was too short for the Artist's Rifles and so he ended up in the Artillery. He spent most of the War attending training camps and hunting for casual sex (and writing his first, unpublished, novel), before being sent to the Western Front in 1917. A business disaster, along with the Depression, led him to turn his attention to writing novels as a means of escaping penury (an unconventional idea for becoming rich) and after selling 50 million books he succeeded. Wheatley lived on a grand scale, rather like a real-life bon vivant James Bond, of fine dining, expensive wines and even more expensive cigars. Phil Baker captures Wheatley's personality, as well as the lurid extremes of his novels (their occult settings, the constant promise of orgies and threats to virgins). For such a detailed book The Devil is a Gentleman is astonishingly readable, as page-turning as Wheatley's own novels.