Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Dennis Yeats Wheatley, the son of Albert David Wheatley and Florence Baker Wheatley, was born in London on January 8, 1897. In 1908, he was sent for a time to Dulwich College, a private school near where his family lived. From 1909 to 1913 he was a cadet aboard H.M.S. Worcester, chosen for him because of its reputation for producing young men of discipline. At the age of sixteen, Wheatley was escorted by his father to Germany, where at Traben-Trarbach he was expected to learn wine making from a local family. In less than a year, he was back in London, where he was put to work in his father’s wine shop on South Audley Street, in the Mayfair section of London.
As a boy of seventeen, Wheatley was extremely eager to join the army that was being formed in preparation for war with Germany. He was finally accepted in 1914 in the Royal Field Artillery, City of London Brigade. From 1917 until 1919, he served in France with the Thirty-sixth Ulster Division. His release from service was the result of his having developed bronchitis, having been exposed to the chlorine gas released by the Germans at the front.
Wheatley, after recuperating, went back to work in the family wine business. His first marriage, to Nancy Madelaine Leslie Robinson, lasted for just over nine years and produced a son, Anthony Marius. Wheatley’s second wife was Joan Gwendoline Johnstone.
Wheatley began writing as a way of earning a living. His first novel, Three Inquisitive People, though written in 1932, was not published until 1940. His second novel, The Forbidden Territory, published in 1933, was so well accepted that it set him on a career that was to give him great satisfaction both monetarily and artistically.
During World War II, Wheatley was the only civilian directly commissioned to serve on the Joint Planning Staff of the War Cabinet. For three years during the war, he served as one of Sir Winston Churchill’s staff officers. These positions came about because in 1940 and 1941, Wheatley had written a number of papers in which he had explained how the British might transport supplies from the United States via convoys of wooden rafts and how best to confuse the enemy should it invade and occupy England. Wheatley died in London on November 10, 1977.