The Second Seal

By Dennis Wheatley

By all accounts, Dennis Wheatley was a very unpleasant man. Mysogynist, tippler, wastrel, spiritualist, racist, national-socialist, jingoist. But a very famous writer, very popular in his native England until the seventies. Which telles us something about that country in its years of decline.

  • Author: Dennis Wheatley
  • Title: The Second Seal
  • Pages: 483
  • Published: 1950
  • Publisher: Hutchinson

The Seven Seals is set in Europe, from 1912 to about 1917. The protagonist, the improbably named Duc de Richleau (I always thought there needed to be an ‘e’ betwean the ‘ch’ and the ‘l’, but perhaps I’m wrong.), is, since the book was written in 1950 or thereabouts, gifted with a precognition of what’s going to happen, and manages to be in the right spot for the best political intrigue all the time.

There’s a lot that happens in the book, but the story is thin. While working for England, naturally!, Richleau seduces the Austrian Archduchess Ilona. Richleau’s travels carry him all over Europe, and the person who said that Wheatley would have made a good author of travelogues was probably right. Even though I have a nagging suspicion that there wasn’t much actual knowledge underlying the nice descriptive prose.

But his portrayal of women in The Second Seal is unconvincing into the extreme. As is, to be fair, his portrayal of men. And of plot. Dialogue is neatly executed, sometimes, but at about three-quarters the string of occurrences becomes too improbable to satisfy even this avid reader of fantasy, and the prose begins to tire. Especially when another rant about the freedoms of good old England that got lost in the wars takes up a page or two.

A quick skip to the end, because there is a lot that happens, but it never seems really important, and, yes, Ilona and Richleau get each other, so all would end well if she weren’t mortally ill.

One thing this book gave me was a very keen appreciation of how much the rich and crowned of Europe have lost through their stupid war; but I cannot feel sorry for them, and I dare say that that means that Wheatley has failed. Because that’s what he wanted to show us.