A small tombstone beneath which lie Dennis Wheatley’s ashes is inscribed:Dennis Wheatley 8.1.97-10.11.77 “Prince of Thriller Writers” RIP
“Prince of Thriller Writers” would have pleased Wheatley—indeed, he may have requested the inscription himself. It was in the pursuit of a life full of those things that princes might take for granted that Wheatley discovered and made use of a talent placing him among the “royalty” of British authors of action-oriented crime, mystery, and spy fiction during and since World War II.
Wheatley began writing seriously when business failures had left him in debt and without prospect for financial recovery. He was in his early thirties when he lost the wine business that had been given him by his dying father. Encouraged by his wife, who had read some of the short stories he had written years before for his own pleasure, he wrote his first novel. About his reaction to his wife’s suggestion that he write, Wheatley said in his memoirs:I had little faith in my ability to do so and even if I did, and succeeded in getting a publisher to take it, I could not hope to make out of it more than about fifty pounds. But having a shot at it would at least take my mind off my worries; so I bought some paper and sat down to write a thriller.
From that beginning, Wheatley made of himself a successful writer, having more than seventy published works to his credit when he died at the age of eighty. He noted in his memoirs that his books had been published in thirty-one languages. He was especially proud of the many letters he had received from people who had enjoyed reading his books while bedridden.
Because he was dependent on the income from his writing, it was very important to Wheatley that his books have wide distribution. He took a serious interest in the demand for books, in the trends in what people were reading, and in the way in which his books were marketed. From the beginning of his writing career, he participated in the plans for advertising. To market his first book, he says:I had 2000 postcards printed; on one side they had the pictorial end-papers of the book, on the other, alongside the space for the address, simply the title, date of publication and a request that the recipient, if he enjoyed adventure stories, should ask for the book at his library.
This book became a best seller and was reprinted seven times in seven weeks.
Wheatley’s first novels were historical thrillers, full of color and drama. As a young man, he...
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