The Devil Rides Out (1934)

Go on, admit it.
You know you can quote it by heart...

I desire to state that I, personally, have never assisted at, or participated in, any ceremony connected with Magic - Black or White. (...)
Should any of my readers incline to a serious study of the subject, and thus come into contact with a man or woman of Power, I feel that it is only right to urge them, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into the practice of the Secret Art in any way. My own observations have led me to an absolute conviction that to do so would bring them into dangers of a very real and concrete nature.

This opening disclaimer is perhaps the most instantly familiar piece of writing in the entire Wheatley canon. Personally, it immediately whisks me back to the late nineteen seventies, and to the smell of jumble sale paperbacks curling in the sun...
It also reminds me just what an astute judge of his audience Wheatley was. He realised instinctively that this was the book where he could achieve a more impressive frisson by bragging about the research he hasn't done rather than the research he has done.

But did he think, as he wrote it, that this was going to be the book, the one that would see him safely into posterity? He might well have guessed that it could become his most famous effort - but could he have ever guessed that for many, many millions it would be the only title his name would evoke? That it was, perhaps, the one thing that would save him from literary oblivion?

How did he get the idea? According to his own recollections, it was no big deal. In Drink and Ink he writes:

After finishing The Fabulous Valley, I tried very hard to think of a subject for my next book that would hit another high spot. It then occurred to me that, although in Victorian times there had been a great vogue for stories of the occult, in the present century there had been very few; so I decided to use the theme of Black Magic.

If it really was that casual, I'm almost inclined to believe in supernatural inspiration after all!
When accounting for the key to the book's enormous success, we must first acknowledge its canny air of authenticity. The suspension of disbelief necessary for a reader to engage with a fantasy story is aided immeasurably by the sense of learned authority with which Wheatley pronounces upon what are, after all, the battiest imaginable subjects. The fru
its from the (now typical) mountains of research through which he ploughed found their way intact to the page: long, rambling monologues on such subjects as palmistry, alchemy, astrology and a bewildering catalogue of similar nonsense; even the existence of werewolves is given a fair hearing. Many of these subjects, biographer Phil Baker notes, Wheatley had begun studying during the war, when the carnage, and the seeming hypocrisy with which both sides accredited their victories to the same God, served to distance him still further from the Christianity he claimed to have disowned from childhood.
The plethora of sources Wheatley relied upon for all this information have been extensively enumerated by other writers, and Baker does a useful job of tracing back each purple stretch of metaphysical speculation to its origins in one or another of the dozens of obscure treatises and testimonies Wheatley consulted (or had pressed upon him by some dubious new acquaintances like Montague Summers and Alesiter Crowley).
As always when Wheatley knew he was relying generously on the work of others he simply acknowledged it: De Richleau's line "Sir George Frazer's The Golden Bough will tell you all about it" - in the middle of a very long passage about the Moon Goddess of the Carthaginians - is typical.

But the result of all this is not to weight the book down and try the reader's patience, though it seems Wheatley feared it might. (Baker reminds us that
Wheatley originally inserted a questionnaire in the back of the book, concerned that readers might not want their thrills punctuated with so much esoterica, and soliciting their views on the matter.) Though the oft-made claim that Wheatley's mix of narrative and research is always crudely done gets never a welcome here, there is no question that this is an especially seamless and creative example of the technique: the research helps make the plot believable, the plot helps make the research interesting.
And though he may not have personally summoned the Goat of Mendes and invited him round for a sherry and a Hoyo de Monterrey, Wheatley did make the acquaintance of a number of prominent British occultists for some juicy tidbits.
Chief among them, as already noted, was the repellent charlatan Aleister Crowley, whose self-propagated reputation for genuine diabolistic prowess persists in certain circles even today. (His talent for self-aggrandisement is probably the only amusing thing about him: he once claimed to have fallen out with Yeats because the latter was jealous of Crowley's greater talent for poetry.)

By the time he met Wheatley his glory days, such as they were, were far behind him and he cut an unmistakably pathetic figure, all the more so for the pompous bravado with which he sought to disguise the fact. Wheatley, who saw through just about every species of humbug except supernatural humbug, had him pegged correctly from the start ("I don't believe he could harm a rabbit"), but a mutual acquaintance convinced him that Crowley had lost his powers as the result of a legendary, partially successful attempt to raise Pan in Paris that left one man dead and Crowley temporarily insane. (
This story, central to the Crowley mystique, seems to acquire a new fantastic embellishment with each retelling: it is an interesting exercise to trace its journey backwards to the typically sordid and unmysterious truth.)

Dear Dennis, Love Aleister - one showman writes to another

Apparently the book owes much to a novel of Crowley's called Moonchild, but one obvious fictional source that is rarely cited as the formative influence it so clearly is, oddly enough, is Stoker's Dracula.
We know that the novel was very much a standard for this kind of endeavour, indeed several of the paperback editions carried a quote from James Hilton in the Daily Telegraph: "The best thing of its kind since Dracula." But it is strange that the superficial differences between the two works made and continue to make such a good job of disg

uising the many essential similarities.
Consider first the similarities in the plot: A supernatural evil that survives by spreading and corrupting the innocent has taken control of two of our heroes. To combat it, a group of friends aided by the specialist knowledge of an older savant confront it and then track it to its mountain lair before vanquishing it. Hypnotism of one of its partial victims aids them in their quest. With the prime evil destroyed, its influence vanishes from those it has affected.
Now observe the detail.
There is this highly reminiscent passage, in which Wheatley points out the power and danger of his Satanists:

"They can control all the meaner things - bats, snakes, rats, foxes, owls - as well as cats and certain breeds of dog like the Wolfhound and Alsatian. (...)
Remember too this is still Walpurgis-Nacht and every force of evil that is abroad will be leagued against us."

Here we detect echoes both of the villager sharing Jonathan Harker's coach at the beginning of Dracula ("It is the Eve of St George's Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?"), and Van Helsing's later summary of the vampire's powers ("he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat--the moth, and the fox, and the wolf").
The links between black magic and vampirism are stressed in this fascinating dialogue between Rex and Tanith (who hails, like Dracula, from the Carpathians):

Rex passed his hand wearily across his eyes. "Don't speak in riddles, treasure. What is this thing you're frightened of? Just tell me now in ordinary, plain English."
"All right. I suppose you have heard of a vampire."
"Why, yes. I've read of them in fiction. They're supposed to come out of their graves every night and drink the blood of human beings, aren't they? Until they're found out, then their graves are opened up for a priest to cut off their head and drive stakes through their hearts."

Exactly this De Richleau proposes doing when Tanith dies, in a scene entirely reminiscent of Van Helsing's preparations to free the soul of the vampirised Lucy, over the objections of his grieving companions:

"She is dead as we know death, " said Richard slowly. "So what could remain?"
"I know what he means," the Duke remarked abruptly. "He is afraid that an elemental may have taken possession of her corpse. If so drastic measures will be necessary."
"No!" Rex shook his head violently. "If you're thinking of cutting off her head and driving a stake through her heart, I won't have it. She's mine, I tell you - mine!"
"Better that than the poor soul should suffer the agony of seeing its body come out of the grave at night to fatten itself on human blood," De Richleau murmured. "But there are certain tests, and we can soon find out. Bring her over here."
Simon and Richard lifted the body and carried it over to the mat of sheets and blankets in the centre of the pentacle, while De Richleau fiddled for a moment among his impedimenta.
"The Undead," he said slowly, "have certain inhibitions. They can pass as human, but they cannot eat human food and they cannot cross running water except at sunset and sunrise. Garlic is a most fearsome thing to them, so that they scream if only touched by it, and the Cross, of course, is anathema. We will see if she reacts to them. "
As he spoke he took the wreath of garlic flowers from round his neck and placed it about Tanith's. Then he made the sign of the Cross above her and laid his little gold crucifix upon her lips.

There seems little room for doubt that Dracula was fresh in Wheatley's mind the day he wrote that. I would think he had almost certainly read it, quite sensibly, in preparation as he embarked on the writing of a novel in a very different genre to anything he had attempted before, and that perhaps, as one of the very few fiction sources on his reading list, it influenced the structure and plot of the finished work more substantially than even he realised.

Such is the book's importance as Wheatley's first black magic novel, it is easy to overlook the fact that it is also the first of Wheatley's novels in which characters from an earlier novel reappear.
'Those modern musketeers', the Duke de Richleau ("art connoisseur and dilettante"), Simon Aron ("the frail, narrow-shouldered English Jew"), Rex Van Ryn ("giant shouldered, virile and powerful" with "his ugly, attractive, humorous young face") and Richard Eaton ("sceptical... but devoted to his friends whatever their apparent folly"), who had first appeared in the as yet unpublished Three Inquisitive People and made their official debut in Wheatley's first novel The Forbidden Territory, are here pressed back into service to grapple with the forces of darkness.
The regular reader is thus given the double pleasure of seeing familiar old friends return, and not in a mere retread of their earlier adventure but rather in a totally different and thrilling new context.

It is interesting to speculate why Wheatley chose to revive them in this story at this time. It is not merely the fact that Wheatley loved these Dumas-inspired adventurers and simply couldn't wait to use them again. I think it might well have struck him how easily they could be made to fit into the structure of Dracula: Simon as Jonathan, Rex as Quincy Morris, Richard as Arthur Holmwood, Tanith as Lucy, Marie Lou as Mina and above all De Richleau as Van Helsing: the older, slightly mysterious, slightly eccentric but immensely wise leader of the group, a man of incredible knowledge, ingenuity and authority, and an expert on seemingly every subject under the sun.

De Richleau's past is as intriguing as his present - we know that as a consequence of his part in a failed coup to reestablish the French monarchy in the 1890s, a "government of bourgeois and socialists" have barred him from ever returning to his native France - and he is therefore a man very much after Wheatley's heart. His taste in all things is impeccable, even if Wheatley dares on rare occasions to question it, as in the decor of his bathroom:

Some people might have considered it a little too striking to be in perfect taste, but De Richleau did not subscribe to the canon which has branded ostentation as vulgarity in the last few generations, and robbed nobility of any glamour which it may have possessed in more spacious days.

So take that! And isn't 'more spacious days' a lovely little phrase? Of course, things are not what they once were, but he's pragmatic enough to make the best of it:

His forebears had ridden with thirty-two footmen before them, and it caused him considerable regret that modern conditions made it impossible for him to drive in his Hispano with no more than one seated beside his chauffeur on the box. Fortunately his resources were considerable and his brain sufficiently astute to make good, in most years, the inroads which the tax gatherers made upon them. 'After him,' of course 'the Deluge' as he very fully recognised, but with reasonable good fortune he considered that private ownership would last out his time, at least in England where he had made his home; and so he continued to do all things on a scale suitable to a De Richleau, with the additional lavishness of one who had had a Russian mother, as far as the restrictions of twentieth-century democracy would allow.

This much we knew already. Now we learn that he also knows tons of stuff about black magic, which is handy, as yet again one of the four is in dire peril; not Rex this time but naive Simon, who has got himself mixed up with a bunch of high society devil worshippers, led by the bald and lisping Damien Mocata, addicted to chocolate and reminding one character of an enormous egg.
His followers are a motley assortment of creeps and crazies, and virtually every reviewer of the recent biography has relished quoting Wheatley's summing-up of them: the mandarin "whose slit eyes betrayed a cold, merciless nature", the hare-lipped "red-faced Teuton", the "fat, oily-looking Babu in a salmon pink turban" and, of course, the French banker with half of one ear missing. A grisly catch indeed, but hardly evidence of any sin greater than reliance upon literary cliché.
It's certainly not the case that Wheatley pits all this foreign nastiness against all-English heroes. Three of the book's five heroes are equally un-English - a Frenchman, an American and a Russian - to which Wheatley adds a Jewish fourth with admirable obliviousness to how unusual and admirable the gesture is. 
As for the physical anomalies; well, Wheatley just loves describing such things, and he doesn't stop at the villains. De Richleau has "devil's eyebrows", Gregory Sallust a disfiguring scar that gives him a "queerly satanic" appearance, Rex is "ugly", Simon frail and narrow-shouldered with a beak-like nose. (Later, in Mayhem In Greece, Wheatley became surely the first and only writer of mass-market thrillers to feature a mentally-retarded hero.)

Another odd myth that has grown around the book, articulated at length by Baker, is that it is an 'appeasement novel', subtly promoting the cause of rapprochement with Nazi Germany.
"In all his interviews about his career and the genesis of The Devil Rides Out," writes Baker, "Wheatley never once mentions the salient fact that it is an Appeasement novel."
Which would indeed be odd were it true: whatever else Wheatley may have been, he was not a hypocrite and he was never afraid to nail his colours to the mast. As late as the autobiographies he was writing at the time of his death, he was still frankly and cheerfully expressing his admiration for Mussolini and Franco, but it is obvious from his writings that he always considered Nazism to be exactly what it was: Communism's evil twin, and an equal threat to personal freedom - the essence of everything he loathed. The tragedy of Mussolini, he once wrote, was his decision to throw in his lot with Hitler.
Hitler is not cited in Black August as a formative hero of the past, though Benito is. In stark contrast to scores of leftist writers and intellectuals, Hitler never had Wheatley's vote.
"Given the link between occultism and right-wing thinking, it is oddly appropriate that the greatest occult novel of the twentieth century should have a subtext of peace with Nazi Germany," continues Baker.
This is not such a 'given'. Fascism is not 'right wing', always assuming that by that nebulous term we mean some kind of Conservatism; it is a progressivist, revolutionary ideology antithetical to Conservatism's abhorrence of centralist control and the omnipotent state. This error leads to the mistaken view that Wheatley, a reactionary monarchist and unresolved stew of traditionalist and libertarian impulses, belongs politically somewhere along a road that leads to Nazism, and was thus capable of harbouring sympathies towards them. He was not.
But then, if we do allow the link between the adolescent power-worship that characterises occultism and similar political ideas compatible with Nazism (and I'm happy to for the sake of the argument) how does it make it "oddly appropriate" that a book about the opposing, tracking down and vanquishing of occultists, who are described in the most condemnatory terms throughout as vile and wicked degenerates, "should have a subtext of peace with Nazi Germany"? Surely accepting the terms of Baker's proposition would render such a thing entirely inappropriate!
And let's face it, subtext-hunting in Wheatley is a fool's errand: Wheatley rarely did anything subtly, and if he wants to make a political point, he'll make sure we don't have to go looking for it.
So what is the evidence for this unique gesture of subtextual sleight of hand on Wheatley's part?
Well, Mocata is seeking the whereabouts of the Talisman of Set (in fact the old boy's mummified penis), a kind of unholy grail, with the power to open a gateway to the underworld and allow the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to "poison the thoughts of peace-loving people and manipulate unscrupulous statesmen, influencing them to plunge Europe into a fresh calamity." 'Fresh' because this, De Richleau tells us, is precisely what happened prior to the Great War, and so our heroes are concerned not only with saving themselves but also preventing a second World War.
The first of two relevant passages occurs after Rex and De Richleau abduct Simon from the occultists' gathering. He is taken unconscious to the Duke's swanky flat, where Rex is amazed to see him place "a small golden swastika" around Simon's neck for protection against the infernal elements:

."... he'll be pretty livid I'll promise you. Fancy hanging a Nazi swastika around the neck of a professing Jew."
"My dear Rex! Do please try and broaden your outlook a little. The swastika is the oldest symbol of wisdom and right thinking in the world. It has been used by every race and every country at one time or other. You might just as well regard the cross as purely Christian, when we all know it was venerated in early Egypt, thousands of years before the birth of Christ. The Nazis have only adopted the swastika because it is supposed to be of Aryan origin and part of their programme aims at welding together a large section of the Aryan race. The vast majority of them have no conception of its esoteric significance and even if they bring descredit upon it, as the Spanish Inquisition did upon the cross, that could have no effect upon its true meaning."

In the context of the passage, Wheatley had no need whatever to say that the Nazis "bring discredit" upon the swastika. But he nonetheless chose to do so. A little later, allowing De Richleau a rare, perhaps even unique admission of intellectual error, he disowns it entirely:
Rex did as he was bid. "But why are we wearing crucifixes when you put a swastika on Simon before?" he asked.
"I was wrong. That is the symbol of Light in the East, where I learned what little I know of the Esoteric Doctrine. There, it would have proved an adequate barrier, but here, where Christian thoughts have centred on the Cross for many centuries, the crucifix has far more potent vibrations."

This hardly qualifies even as ambivalence towards Nazism: it is careful disassociation, tinged with frank distaste.
So with the swastika a decided red herring, all hope of establishing the book as an appeasement tract is riding on this intriguing passage, much later:
"You're referring to the Great War I take it," Rex said soberly.
"Of course, and every adept knows that it started because one of the most terrible Satanists who ever lived found one of the secret gateways through which to release the four horsemen."
"I thought the Germans got a bit above themselves," Rex hazarded, "although it seems that lots of other folks were pretty well as much to blame."
"You fool!" De Richleau suddenly swung upon him. "Germany did not make the War. It came out of Russia. It was Russia who instigated the murder at Sarajevo, Russia who backed Serbia to resist Austria's demands, Russia who mobilised first and Russia who invaded Germany. The monk Rasputin was the Evil genius behind it all. He was the greatest Black Magician that the world has known for centuries. It was he who found one of the gateways through which to let forth the four horsemen that they might wallow in blood and destruction - and I know the Talisman of Set to be another. Europe is ripe now for any trouble and if they are loosened again, it will be final Armageddon. This is no longer a personal matter of protecting Simon. We've got to kill Mocata before he can secure the Talisman and prevent his plunging the world into another war."

Now, I've read this passage over and over, forward and back, and I just can't see how it can be made to say appeasement.
The attempt to exonerate Germany from instigating the Great War was hardly a freakish stance to take at the time, and in its argument is scarcely unreasonable, though of course debatable. Neither can it be read as reflecting a veiled sympathy for modern Germany: De Richleau, as we have seen, affects a coolly dismisive view of the Nazis, exactly the view we should expect him to take of murdering, progressivist revolutionaries. Further, Wheatley the storyteller needs to justify a supernatural explanation of the affair, making Rasputin the obvious first choice of prime mover. Had Rasputin been a German, he would still have been irresistibly tailor-made for the role, and the Duke may well have amended his history lesson accordingly.

But more important than any of this is the temperament of the work, which seems to me brazenly confrontational. De Richleau is saying that vigorous action must be taken to prevent another war; he is saying that those who wish to bring fresh destruction upon Europe must be confronted and opposed. In other words, if we want to read it metaphorically, Mocata and his horsemen stand for (or behind) the warmongers, and appeasement is the very course of action that De Richleau is counselling against. The book is warning of war, and obviously wishes to avert it in time as who would not, but the appeasement of open aggressors is nowhere advocated, nor remotely consistent with Wheatley's, or de Richleau's, worldview.

In true Wheatley style, the book proceeds at a consistent pace until about the halfway mark, before resolving itself into a series of climaxes, each good enough to end the book, but each more tense and effective than the last. (And so mesmerising are the ingredients and the flavour here it is easy to forget how familiar we are with the recipe by now.)
First we have the race to the Sabbat, in an attempt to prevent Simon and Tanith from undergoing their satanic baptism. Wheatley brilliantly gives this chapter the flavour of reportage by presenting it as a series of short paragraphs, each stating the exact time at which the detailed event takes place (and also reusing the 'overlapping narrative' technique first used in
The Fabulous Valley.) It is a brave idea, and entirely successful.
Then we have the al fresco sabbat itself, at which a hideous apparition of the Goat of Mendes is summoned, and from which Rex and the Duke narrowly manage to rescue Simon by driving at the throng full-speed with their headlights on:

Drunk with an inverted spiritual exaltation and excess of alcohol - wild-eyed and apparently hardly conscious of each other - the hair of the women streaming disordered as they pranced, and the panting breath of the men coming in laboured gasps - they rolled and lurched, spun and gyrated, toppled, fell, picked themselves up again, and leaped with renewed frenzy in one revolting carnival of mad disorder. Then, with a final wailing screech from the violin, the band ceased and the whole party flung themselves panting and exhausted upon the ground, while the huge Goat rattled and clacked its monstrous cloven hoofs together and gave a weird laughing neigh in a mockery of applause..

This too is top-hole stuff, yet still it is merely an hors d'oeuvre, for still to come is the ordeal in the library, as the heroes crowd inside a chalk pentacle on the floor while, all around, Mocata masses the forces of evil in sustained assault:

"What's that!" exclaimed Simon, and they swung round to face the new danger. The shadows were massing into deeper blackness in one corner of the room. Something was moving there.
A dim phosphorescent blob began to glow in the darkness; shimmering and spreading into a great hummock, its outline gradually became clearer. It was not a man form nor yet an animal, but heaved there on the floor like some monstrous living sack. It had no eyes or face but from it there radiated a terrible malefic intelligence.
Suddenly there ceased to be anything ghostlike about it. The Thing had a whitish pimply shin, leprous and unclean, like some huge silver slug. Waves of satanic power rippled through its spineless body, causing it to throb and work continually like a great mass of new-made dough. A horrible stentch of decay and corruption filled the room; for as it writhed it exuded a slimy poisonous moisture which trickled in little rivulets across the polished floor. It was solid, terribly real, a living thing. They could even see long, single, golden hairs, separated from each other by ulcerous patches of skin, quivering and waving as they rose on end from its flabby body - and suddenly it began to laugh at them, a low, horrid, chuckling laugh.

This memorably disgusting creation, oddly reminiscent of an earlier description of Mocata himself ("He reminded me of a large white slug") proved too bizarre for the special effects team at Hammer, whotherefore replaced it in their film version with a more prosaic giant tarantula. The other thing that Wheatley is able to do and film-makers are not, of course, is control the pace, so that simply by varying the amount of detail with which he describes moments of time he is able to stretch some suspense sequences to excruciating length, and compress others to convey breathless excitement. By repeatedly doing this 'pull back, rush forward' switch here he combines nail-biting tension with brilliantly-conveyed thrills. The whole chapter is a masterly display..
But even this he tops, again using one of his tried and tested techniques. The danger reaches fever pitch, is repelled, and normaility is resumed. It feels like the end of the novel; we, and the characters, breathe deep sighs of relief.
Then he wallops us with the sudden realisation that the problem has not been solved, the peril has not gone away but only increased - in this case via the abduction of Richard's infant daughter Fleur - and what we thought was a finale is revealed as merely a prelude.
The final section is all action, an affair of chases and pursuits and escapes, with Wheatley carefully balancing the supernatural with more proasic thrills. The ordeal in the library was all spook show, and ended with the heroes gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge as to where the villain has gone, where he will be at a certain time in the future and what he intends to do with the abducted child, all obtained by supernatural means. If the book had simply allowed them to act on this and save the day - and a lesser author, figuring we've had thrills enough by this time, might well have done just that - the reader would feel cheated: suspension of disbelief in otherworldly powers is easy enough when they're working against our heroes, and provide an almost insurmountable challenge to their ingenuity, but it would be far too lazy, and dramatically unsatisfying, to use them as a cheap means of gaining them an advantage. (This is a mistake the film version makes, albeit accidentally, in its ruthless streamlining of the story after the library sequence). To omit the plane journey, the brushes with the police, the tense stand-off with the French banker and the final chase up a mountain in Greece would make the ending far too easy and uneventful after the pentacle scene, and would feel like a cheat.
This way, the reader is let back in as a participant: like the other characters, we can only stand by and watch as De Richleau intones the Su-whatsit ritual, so it does us good to get back to the tricky piloting of four-seater planes and the kind of dangers that can be solved by a good sock on the jaw. Too much esoterica can be distancing, but a little fisticuffs between the diabolic courses works wonders for keeping our appetite for spells and incantations keen, so we never feel jaded or want to accuse Wheatley of over-egging the pudding.
It also, of course, lets Wheatley the yarn-spinner loose, permits him a bit of globe-trotting, and at last gives him an excuse to get inside a fancy restaurant. (The most the plot would allow prior to the trip to Paris was a surprisingly first class country inn, though in a concession to the dramatic mood of the moment he grudgingly has the characters not really enjoy the fine spread he nonetheless lays on for them and describes for us.) And by the time we get to the ending - which is, to put it charitably, pure claptrap - we have no objections: Wheatley has us in his spell.
No question, this is one of the great novels of Wheatley's career, a masterly juggling act that keeps the twin balls of esoterica and action in the air over three hundred frantic pages without ever dropping them once.
It's a book that even Rex Van Ryn might have enjoyed reading, and that's praise indeed, for, when Tanith asks him if he has encountered any of the esoteric doctrines in his past reading, he explains:

"No, I wouldn't exactly say I have as far as I can remember. The Duke would know all about them for a certainty - and Richard Eaton too, I expect - because they're both great readers. But I'm just an ordinary chap who's content to take his reading from the popular novelists who can turn out a good, interesting story.".

Who could he have had in mind?