Review: The Devil Rides Out

Devil Rides OutWhile fantasy forums and websites frequently gravitate to the newest and hottest titles, I have a serious soft spot for the classics, especially Pulp-Era fiction.  Readers today have been able to categorize everything into neat micro subgenres, but there was once a period which was more like the wild west of fantasy, where anything goes, and stories were constantly forging new ground.  And though authors like Lovecraft and Howard were certainly the most remembered trail blazers, they were hardly alone.  Among them was Dennis Wheatley.

I first became aware of Wheatley when my wife and I were visiting some older friends of ours.  While discussing writing and my love of Lovecraft, our hostess mentioned that when she was growing up in New Zealand, her favorite horror author was Wheatley.  I’d never heard of him, and quickly picked up a copy of his most famous horror novel The Devil Rides Out (1934).

The Devil Rides Out is the first of Weatley’s Black Magic series, but also a sequel to the extremely successful novel Forbidden Territory (1933), which was an action/adventure novel.  Please take a moment to appreciate this. Wheatley followed a normal and extremely popular adventure story with a supernatural horror.  This is pretty much the equivalent of Liam Neeson fighting vampires in Taken 2. Having not been aware that this was a sequel, I was very happy to see that the novel was written so that a newcomer like myself would quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and their histories.

The story follows five characters, their leader the Duke de Richeau, is pretty much Christopher Lee.  Seriously.  Take Christopher Lee, the most bad-ass Renaissance man alive and just call him de Richeau.  Being that Wheatley wrote the character in the 1930’s we can assume that one of the following happened: A) Wheatley had access to a crystal ball and modeled the Duke after the future Lee,  B) The universe was so impressed with what a bad-ass the fictional Duke was that it immediately aligned the stars to make a then 11 year old Lee into the Duke, or C) A young Christoper Lee read the about the Duke and said, “Holy shit, I’m going to be this guy,” and promptly succeeded at it.  Given what I know about Christopher Lee and of Wheatley’s extremely thorough research into the occult, all of these are equally possible.  In fact, Christoper Lee enjoyed the novel so much that he played Duke de Richeau in the 1968 film version when he was finally old enough to play himself.

Duke de Richeau Christopher Lee

“Now the circle is complete.”

The heroes find themselves at odds with a group of Satanists who have kidnapped their friend in order to find an artifact of unspeakable evil: The Talisman of Set.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you find out what exactly that is.  I’m not spoiling it for you, but trust me, the Talisman is kinda gross.  Armed with their wits, their devoted friendship, and the Duke’s formidable occult knowledge, the heroes endure hellish horrors as they chase the Satanists across Europe.

I found the story a lot of fun.  Yes, it’s dated.  But it’s also a fascinating time-capsule of pre-war British horror.  Wheatley gives a good jab at the Nazis at one point and it was interesting to see the thoughts about them so far before the start of the war.  It’s obvious that Wheatley did some incredible research for this book. I even read somewhere that he interviewed Aleister Crowley about it.  However some of the thorough occult information Wheatley pumps into the novel skates a narrow line between absolutely fascinating and boringly tedious.  But the histories and debates the Duke gives when convincing his friends that magic is real are simply wonderful.

The eternal 15 year old in me snickered several times through the book.  Not just the use of “ejaculated” as a means of speaking, but several strangely uncomfortable moments that they sort of charged through without the least acknowledgement of how weird that would be.  My favorite was when the heroes encounter a Satanic rite and they have to ward all of their bodily orifices with sanctified holy water to keep the evil out (Nine for men, ten for women).  For some reason you can not do this yourself and your friends have to apply the warding water to all of your holes.  I’m immature, I admit it, and if I ever found myself lurking in the woods outside a sabat with a hundred cannibalistic Satanists performing their evil before Baphomet himself, I doubt I’d have a single scruple in dropping my pants and ordering my best friend to ward my openings for protection.

Rex and the Duke

“I’ve changed my mind.  Please seal my holes from evil.”

Another thing I enjoyed was the American character of Rex.  Being a proper British author, Wheatley made Rex the most steretypical loud-mouthed gung-ho kinda dense but lovable character he could.  It’s pretty clear that Rex epitomized Wheatley’s opinion of Americans and I found it quite entertaining.  I also wanted to reach into the book several times and choke Rex out.  He’s a nice guy, but damn he’s dumb. Best to think of him as a huge lovable dog.

Being a 80 year old book you can also expect some racism.  I’d been warned before hand and I didn’t find Wheatley’s racism to be that bad (I cannot say this about the next book, Strange Conflict).  But be warned.

Racism and awkwardness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed The Devil Rides Out.  I even used some of it in my Call of Cthulhu games.  I recommend it for anyone that enjoys classic horror or might be interested in something a bit different than the standard tropes we find in today’s Horror and Urban Fantasy stories.

After reading the novel I picked up the sequels.  I read Gateway to Hell(1970) and Strange Conflict(1941) out of order by mistake and am happy that I did.  Gateway to Hell was an OK sequel.  The first half was a tedious and boring travel guide to 1950’s South America, but the second half did a fine job of redeeming it (The book gets good the moment the Duke finally shows up). Still, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you LOVED the Devil Rides Out.  Also…bit more racist that the first book.  The second book, Strange Conflict, was terrible.  Fucking awful.  The setup was great, brilliant even.  It was awesome to read a story about the London Blitz that was written during the Blitz. Then we find that the Nazis are using occult powers to locate British ships and sink them. It started out so good, but much of the Duke’s dialogue was recycled word for word from Book 1, the beautifully set up plot plot fell absolutely flat and devolved into plain silly, and the incredible racism expressed was difficult for me to get through.  Seriously, please don’t think this is a call to act and see how bad it is.  It’s bad.  Best to avoid it. Also, with the incredible research Wheatley did on European occult in the first book, he did extremely little research into Haitian Voodoo, and pretty much latched on to the horror tropes that were coming out at the time.

The versions that I read were the Audible editions read by Nick Mercer.  Mercer did a fine job narrating and it greatly added to my enjoyments of the books.  If you want to try some classic British Horror, check out The Devil Rides Out.

Highlander: My Favorite Urban Fantasy

When people discuss the most influential or most genre-defining Urban Fantasies, the two most common names I see are the Dresden Files and the Anita Blake series.  And while both of those did forge serious ground in the Detective Noir Urban Fantasy genre, they’re by no means the first Urban Fantasies and aren’t even close to being my favorite in the genre.  That title belongs to the 1986 film Highlander.

For anyone not familiar with Highlander (which is a serious offense that I’m sure you will rectify the moment you are done reading this), the story follows an immortal who has secretly lived among us for 450 years. He must sword fight other immortals, killing them by severing their heads, and then absorbing their power.  As the centuries roll on, the last of their kind are drawn to New York City to battle each other until only one remains.  The movie spawned several terrible sequels (I secretly enjoyed Highlander III), a TV show, and even a cartoon that we’ll never discuss and that I shouldn’t have even acknowledged. It also gave Nerd Culture the infamous cry of, “There can be only one.”

I was 11 when I first encountered Highlander.  My brother came home from college, handed me a VHS tape, and said, “Watch this. You’ll love it.”  So, having no idea what the movie was about, or even what the word “highlander” meant, I popped it in.  Within a few minutes I was treated to a sword fight in a parking garage. The movie definitely had my interest.  In fact, even to this day, I can’t walk through a dark parking garage without picturing two men battling to the death with swords.  Then one of them got decapitated.  Being 11 years old, this was one of the most violent and awesome things I’d ever witnessed.  And right when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I was treated to lightning, exploding cars, and straight-up magic. At this point Highlander had my absolute and undivided attention.

Which was good, because moments after this completely unexplained awesomeness, we’re suddenly transported back to 16th Century Scotland.  Only after several more flashbacks, and some rockin’ Queen music, we meet Sean Connery, who is a 2,000 year old Egyptian Spaniard with a Japanese sword and a Scottish accent (just go with it) who arrives to explain what’s going on.


After the movie I walked out of my house with the distant-eyed glaze of a prophet having just seen the future.  I told everyone about it.  It was the most incredible thing I’d ever encountered and I wanted the world to know.  Even now, 25 years later, I can look at Highlander, and while I now see its many flaws, I can’t help but be amazed at how mind-blowingly original it was.

That’s right, I just called an 80’s B-movie mind-blowingly original.  So let me explain…

Storytellers draw on the works written before them to craft something new. It’s pretty easy to see a story’s DNA.  For example, Dresden Files follows a style template that came from Pulp Era detective stories like those of Hammet and Chandler.  Those drew their inspiration from the earlier works of Sherlock Holmes. While yes, they’re very different with original elements, the influences are undeniable.

Highlander, however, is so freakishly original that there’s nothing else you can compare it to.  There is a teeny bit of inspiration they drew from Ridley Scott’s The Duelists, which follows two men who spend their lives repeatedly dueling one another.  But the whole immortal head-chopping lightning-shooting part seems to have come out of nowhere.  It’s so strikingly original that it’s impossible to use that element without being an obvious rip-off. Highlander is the beginning and the end of its own subgenre.

When I was a kid, I didn’t dream that I’d find some droids and get swept into the Star Wars Universe, or that I’d get a letter from Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Children. I dreamed I’d be a sword-fighting immortal, battling it out behind the 7-11. I wanted a world where magic and and the fantasic were’t in some far away time or land, but right now, living in secret in our very world.


In the end, there can be only one.

18 Facts About Dämoren

Dämoren was released one year ago today.  In honor of the occasion, I wanted to share a few facts about it. And since Dämoren has 18 shells, I decided on 18 facts.

**Spoilers Below**

1:  Dämoren was originally planned to have been built by the Italian gun-maker Beretta. But when researching, I learned that Beretta didn’t do much work with revolvers in the late 19th Century.  It was changed to a Holland & Holland pistol, a British gun-maker. It wasn’t until after finding pictures of Joseph-Célestin Dumonthier’s cutlass revolvers that I changed it to a Dumonthier pistol and added the blade.

Dumonthier Engraved

2:  There are 21 characters living in the chateau when Matt arrives, him making 22. I’d originally planned for five more, but decided I already had more than enough characters.

3:  The demons that inhabit the jade masks are shishi lions.


4:  The Valducans can confirm 46 holy weapons at the beginning of the book.  They discover one more, bringing the total to 47.  By the end, there are 36 (with a 37th being rebuilt).

5:  Matt being a male character was a last-second decision.  Because I was already so far outside my comfort zone by writing something other than Sword & Sorcery, I decided to make him male.

6:  The Valducan’s airplane is a Fokker F27 turboprop.


7:  Max Schmidt was named after actor Max von Sydow. However, his character was inspired by Walter from Hellsing.

8:  The Mel Gibson movie that Matt watches in his Canadian motel room is Lethal Weapon.

Lethal Weapon Quad

9:  Dämoren takes place in 6 countries and 3 continents (7 countries if you count the interludes).

10:  Neil Gaiman’s use of informational interludes in American Gods inspired their use in Dämoren.

11:  Dämoren’s name was rooted off of the German word  dämon, which means, demon. While I personally love the umlaut in the title, the problems that readers might face when typing searches for it led us to listing it as Damoren on Amazon and Goodreads. 


12:  There was a cut chapter that explained that Ben and Natuche were in a secret relationship. Ben deeply regretted that he never told Natuche that he was in love with her. The chapter was cut because it was the only chapter that wasn’t in Matt’s Point of View and it stuck out.

13:  Dämoren took 15 months to write.

14:  The Wendigo attack in Chapter 1 takes place in upstate New York off of Kinzua Lake. My wife’s family owns a cabin at the same location.

15:  Aside from their holy weapons, the Valducans use several firearms. Matt uses a Mac10 Ingram.  Luiza and Luc both use a SIG Sauer P226 (Luc’s is tan). Allan uses a Walther PPK.  Malcolm caries a sawed-off Remington double barrel. Kazuo uses a WWII Colt M1911.  Jean uses a Steyr AUG at the mine scene. Schmidt carries a .357 Magnum revolver. Ben carries a 5-shot .38 Special.

16:  Demonic breeds shown in Dämoren are: Wendigo, Strutter, Ghoul, Vampire, Werewolf, Oni, Ifrit, Hellhound, Lamia, Rakshasa, Succubi, Itwan, Shishi, Tiamat, and an unnamed orange thing. Demonic breeds mentioned, but not shown are Aswang, Sigben (a.k.a. Chupicabra,) Tengu (the bird-headed thing in Matt’s story), and an unnamed bipedal horned lizard.

17:  Chapter 1 is obviously a prologue, but because so many people have expressed a dislike for prologues, and often skip them, I labeled it Chapter 1.

18:  Lunar eclipses are a major plot point to the novel.  There was a total lunar eclipse on the night Dämoren was released*

Blood Moon

Bonus 19th Fact: (because Dämoren regained one shell):  Dämoren’s technical stats – Seven-shot single action centerfire revolver.  11mm bullet.  Loading gate on left side. Eight-inch octagonal barrel with ten-inch blade. Gold leaf. Small red gems along barrel and a prayer (without “amen.” That’s on the bullet.) The handle is straight, angled down. It is ivory and capped with two wolves heads in bronze.

*OK, technically the next day, but in the early AM before sunrise, so I’m counting it.

Review and Interview Over at The BiblioSanctum

When I was writing Hounacier and seeing all the wonderful feedback and praise for Dämoren, I started getting a little worried that my drastic change of style for the second book was going to disappoint some readers and reviewers who might have been looking forward to something much more like Book 1.

So far, it looks like everyone has been very happy with the change of themes for Hounacier.  Mogsy at the BiblioSanctum gave it 4-Stars. Same rating she gave Dämoren, and trust me, four stars from Mogsy is no small accomplishment. The reason she’s so respected as a reviewer is because she’s frugal with those stars.

She wrote: “If you like your UF dark, brutal and completely unflinching about the fact, then Valducan is the series for you.”

You can read the entire review here.

After reading it, she asked to interview me about the series, where it all came from, and why I chose to switch protagonists for Book 2. It was a great feeling to go from “Man, I really hope she doesn’t hate it,” to “She liked it so much that she wanted to find out more.” You can read the interview here.

Finally, I’ve been asked several times about the Audiobook for Hounacier.  Well, I’m happy to report that I spoke with R.C. Bray earlier this week and he’s signed on to narrate it.  Unfortunately, the price of using such a talented and successful narrator is that he’s in high demand and his schedule is loaded.  So he’ll begin recording in June.  But they say good things come to those who wait and I’m thrilled to have him back for Hounacier.  With the Audie awards coming up this May, and R.C. Bray’s three nominations (including Dämoren) chances are pretty good that he’ll be getting a whole lot busier very soon.