|The Forbidden Territory;
Century Hutchinson, London, March 1988
IT is fitting that the first title in this new edition of my late father’s novels should be The Forbidden Territory as this was the first of his books to be published. He had written a number of short stories which had been published in Nash’s Magazine, but it was after his Mayfair wine merchant business failed during the Depression that he had the time to write a full-length novel in 1933. It was an instant success and he was very proud that it was reprinted seven times in seven weeks, thus putting him firmly on the road as a ‘best-seller’. He wrote more than fifty novels and, although he became so well-known for his Black Magic books, there were only nine Black Magic titles and he was basically a writer of exciting adventure stories.
When The Forbidden Territory was written, it was only fifteen years since the Russian Revolution and very few people had yet visited Soviet Russia. Many readers were convinced that my father must have been there because the descriptions were so accurate and authentic. In fact he had not and as far as I know never visited Russia, but I think that part of his success lay in his insistence on detail and accuracy and he spent a great deal of time researching his books—especially the Roger Brook historical novels about the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, a period in which he had a particular interest.
My father was always a voracious reader and already had a large library before he became an author. One of his favourites was Dumas and it is no secret that his first set of characters, the Duke de Reichleau and his three friends of widely varying backgrounds, is based on the ‘Three Musketeers’ with their motto: ‘All for one and one for all’. The Duke is an exiled French nobleman with Russian connections, Richard Eaton is the typical upper-class Englishman, Simon Aron the artistic aesthetic Jew, while Rex van Ryn is the millionaire New York playboy—the scion of one of the great New Amsterdam founding families. In the series of de Reichleau books each of these characters in turn gets into some sort of trouble and the others come to the rescue. In The Golden Spaniard two of the friends are on the Government side and the other two on the side of the Rebels, while the heroine of this novel turns out to be the Duke’s illegitimate daughter and the story of her birth is told in one of the flashbacks, Vendetta in Spain. There are two other flashbacks: The Prisoner in the Mask which describes the young Duke’s early life as a French Army officer and his exile as a result of a Royalist plot; while The Second Seal is set in 1914 and describes the events leading up to and including the early part of the Great War. My father thought this was his best book and was very proud that Kurt Hahn, the founder of Gordonstoun, considered it was the best easily-digested history of these events and ordered copies for all his students.
It may be of interest that my father’s first manuscript to be accepted by Hutchinson was Three Inquisitive People, a detective story about the Duke and his friends and quite unlike any of the other books. However, before it could be published he followed up with the manuscript of The Forbidden Territory which was so much better that it was published instead; and the former was not published until the war years when my father was on the Deception Planning Staff and had no time to write novels.
In contrast to the recent so-called ‘kitchen sink’ tradition of realism, my father always maintained that ordinary people, many of whom were leading rather dull lives, liked to read about dukes and princesses rather than factory workers and housemaids. He certainly had plenty of ‘love interest’ in his stories, but it was not crude. I suspect that the tide may be turning and that young people are at last returning to a more romantic concept of love.
Who were his characters based on? I think we all fantasise ourselves as heroes and perhaps my father would have liked to be the Duke. I am sure the beautiful Lucretia of The Golden Spaniard was based on his much-loved step-daughter, Diana Younger, who designed the covers and end papers of the early books and to whom he dedicated that novel. I must hasten to add that there is no question of Diana having been his illegitimate daughter as my father did not meet her mother until many years after her birth. I do not know who inspired Richard Eaton or Rex van Ryn, but I think that Simon Aron was based on Mervyn Baron—a shy aesthetic friend of my father’s who was not only wealthy but also very generous. I can remember his giving me a very expensive present of a modelling kit for a Bentley when I was far too young to appreciate it. On looking it up I find that The Devil Rides Out, my father’s first Black Magic title in which Simon is ensnared by Black Magicians, is in fact dedicated to Mervyn Baron.
In 1937 when I was fourteen, my father dedicated his latest book to me. It was The Secret War, a book about Mussolini’s attack on Abyssinia. He described me as having just discovered him as an author, but in fact I had discovered him several years before and was an avid reader of his books. After he died in 1977, I re-read each of the series over a period of months and thoroughly enjoyed them ‘second time round’. When I was married in 1949 and I was driving my bride away, my father told me to be sure to enquire at the hotel in Dover where we were spending our first night for a package he had sent there. I duly did so and the package proved to contain a magnum of Veuve Clicquot vintage champagne, a large box of Charbonnel’s chocolates and a signed copy of his latest book! Yes, I did read it during our honeymoon.
Anthony Wheatley 1988