(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Of Wheatley’s many books, only a few involve satanism, but he is best known for those books. In them, he betrays an ambivalent stance toward black magic: He always makes it the villain, but he cannot disguise his interest, often highly salacious, in the subject. Passages involving satanism give his sometimes creaking plots and wooden characterization and dialogue the necessary spice to keep readers turning the pages.

The Satanist, a later work, reveals the loosening moral code of the 1960’s. Mary, despite having been a prostitute and having enjoyed sex with a man she does not love, comes across as a sympathetic heroine. She is punished not with death but merely with a broken arm, and she gets the man she loves. Although Mary, for much of the novel, is threatened with imminent ravishment by any number of men and women, only Washington succeeds.

The main problem with the plot concerns the virtually unlimited psychic powers of Lothar and the lesser but still impressive powers of Washington and Ratnadatta. It is difficult to engineer meaningful suspense between those like Verney, Barney, and (except for the crucifix) Mary, bound by the rules of ordinary reality, and the supernatural powers of the black magicians. The reader is left wondering why the latter did not easily prevail; the answer presumably lies in the invisible forces of good in opposition to evil.