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Curtain of Fear

Posted: Tue 20 Dec, 2011 15:55:46
by Stevie P
Having re-read a number of my previous reviews I thought to myself that others readers may wonder why I add so much story-line detail rather than offering too much in the way of criticism or praise for the books I read. Initially my sole reason for writing these reviews were purely as ‘Aide memoire’ for my ever failing memory. I don’t profess to be a literary critic but just wanted these shortened records as a reminder for future years.

Curtain of Fear

In 1946 Churchill spoke of an “Iron Curtainâ€￾ coming down upon Europe. A term echoed by Dennis Wheatley in this book.
Wendy Stevenson is a 22 year old student of political economics at Birmingham University and daughter of a rich manufacturer who lives in Solihull.
Wendy’s tutor, Nicholas Novak (Nick) is 30 years old, with a slight stoop (a la Simon Aaron). His parents had both been killed in the war and had been left to fend for himself with very little money.
He normally loathed and despised what were loosely termed the idle rich. He (believed) he was as Red as any Leftist could be, while by upbringing and conviction she was a True Blue Tory.
The political differences were the only things that were disrupting their engagement.

Nick has a cousin – Bilto Novak. He is a Czech and also an ardent Red as well as being an atomic scientist working at Harwell who now wishes to pass his knowledge back to the communists and return to Czechoslovakia.
Nick meets up with cousin Bilto in the Russel Hotel, London ... tAodyhSNTg
Bilto wants Nick to have power of attorney just in case Bilto gets caught spying. Nick reluctantly agrees but is still doubtful as Bilto has extreme communist views. In fact Nick is so concerned, that he decides to take Biltos’ passport whilst Bilto is out of the room. Nick says farewell to his brother and on his way out decides to have a drink in the hotel bar. (A pretty stupid thing to do when you have just stolen someone’s passport; but we shouldn’t let illogical actions get in the way of an average plot.
Whilst enjoying his drink a page boy walks through the bar area with a message for Bilto Novak.
Nick takes the message (intended for Bilto) it advises that his car was waiting for him. As Nick looks very much like Bilto he decides to take the car that is supposed to be taking him to an address in London prior to his taking the plane to Prague airport. A young lady called Horovska is there to accompany him. Nick deliberately tries to slow things down by asking to be taken to a different address first. She reluctantly does so. When he delays the visit too long Horovska gets anxious and the chauffeur comes to her assistance in trying to get Nick back into in the car.
The chauffeur (Rufus) is a powerfully built Negro, well over six feet two in height. Folded in his hand is a five inch blade of cut-throat razor.
Rufus & Horovska take Nick to an address near Ladbroke Grove. Nick is then introduced to a man named Vanek who has short grey hair cut en brosse (as had many of DW’s baddies before this one). He is the principal representative of the Czechoslovak people’s government in this country. He is also delighted that the eminent Professor Bilto Novak has decided to return to Czechoslovakia. At this stage Nick decides to let them know that he is not Bilto, however Horovska swings the story around by telling Rufus and Vanek that this man has been her lover for the last two years and she should know that he is Bilto.
As a result Horovska and a drugged Nick are placed on a plane to Prague.
They are taken to their accommodation where Horovska admits that her real name is Fedora.
Nick realises that the political beliefs of Fedora were, in essence, the same as those of Wendy.
He couldn’t understand why Fedora had told Vanek that he was Bilto or what she was planning to do whilst she was here?
Another baddie is introduced into the story; Comrade Frcek; a biggish man, but bulky rather than tall. He, like Vanek is a minister in the people’s government. He has been told of the problems that had taken place in London and now believes that Fedora is a traitor as she has been found out to have been lying about the identification of the man she had flown over with. It was Nick not Bilto as she had claimed. Frcek proceeds to have her whipped (two full pages of detail) and then sent to Moscow with Nick for further interrogation.
Nick and Fedora are taken from prison in a large six-seater car. They hadn’t been driving long when allies of Fedora ambush the car. Nick & Fedora escape by hiding in a small bar/theatre. They were hoping to remain inconspicuous and took one of the ‘Horse shoe shaped theatre boxes’, which with the press of a switch drops down several feet to allow secrecy to couples who were none too interested in the entertainment on the stage.
They head off to find one of Fedora’s contacts who allows them to stay in a hiding place within his small Hotel.
The authorities manage to locate them and a gun battle follows, the hotel catches fire and Fedora & Nicky are stranded upstairs.
The Jacket cover of the Hardback book shows the two of them jumping out of a window at the back of the Hotel into a canal. This is probably the best scene in the book and is really well described.
Their ordeal continues via a trek through the night-time countryside. They meet up with some local villagers and given a barn to sleep in until they can get out of the country.
Unfortunately the villagers had been illegally holding religious ceremonies in the barn to which the police had been informed and a large van is brought along to take them to prison. Nick manages to evade capture by jumping onto the roof of the van. This is also another very good scene in the book. The ending however I will leave for others to read.

Page 18 - 19 Nicholas wanted Wendy to, “..abandon the shibboleths of her bourgeois antecedents and be moulded into his right-hand in the great crusade for internationalism and equalityâ€￾!!!!!!!!

Page 164 - Nick was .....â€￾an agnostic, so it did not occur to him to pray for divine intervention.â€￾ He obviously wasn’t an Agnostic then! The definition is, ‘an agnostic is popularly defined as a person who holds to a middle ground between atheism and theism who also believes that the existence of God is a definite possibility but it is not within the realm of one’s knowledge’.

Page 176 – DW promotes the author Paul Gallico by recalling a book called ‘Trial by Terror’ . DW (Nick) says that it is a brilliant piece of work which describes the treatment meted out to
suspected saboteurs. This book was the basis of a film called Assignment: Paris in 1952, starring Dana Andrews and George Sanders. It’s strange that Paul Gallico can write novels as diverse as Trial by Terror’ and The Three Lives of Thomasina, which was made into a Disney film in 1964.

Page 177 - Whilst Nick (and Fedora) are on the run from the ‘Peoples Government’ he switches his mind back to another book that he had recently read. It was about a thoroughly unscrupulous character who, between nights of love-making with a beautiful Countess, went about the continent murdering innocent policemen & others because it chanced that their duties caused them to stay in the way of British objectives during the last war. There had been a scene in which the central character, who rejoiced in the unlikely name of Gregory Sallust, had been present, although a civilian, at Dunkirk...

Page 191 - 205 The Horse shoe shaped elevator style theatre boxes mentioned above might significantly increase theatre attendances if they were re-introduced. Maybe they already have been – I have never been in a theatre box.

This is very much another DW Anti – Communist book. His references on this subject have been numerous in the past and will continue to be so in the future.
This is certainly not one of his best books but does have some merits as described above. It’s strange that (in my opinion) his worst book – ‘Star of Ill Omen’ (May 1952) and this book ‘Curtain of Fear’ (October 1953) is surrounding one of his best books, ‘To the Devil A Daughter’ (Jan 1953).

Posted: Tue 20 Dec, 2011 21:26:27
by Steve Whatley
Dear Steve,

I had indeed wondered why your reviews contain fairly elaborate summaries of the plots; your reason seems as good a reason as any. (I personally use my failing memory as an excuse to re-read DW's books.) Another benefit is that anyone who needs a quick resume of the plot of a DW novel can refer to The Library with a good chance of finding one of your reviews. (I don't know how many you've done, but you must be well ahead of your only 'rival', The Dennis Wheatlet Project. Not that I want to turn it into a competition between the two of you! In the fullness of time, the DW fan will hopefully be able to see two different online reviews of every DW title; that'll be a very valuable resource.)

Having said all that, I find your odd observations and comments the most interesting parts of your reviews. And this one is no exception...

I agree with your comment on agnosticism; I am sure I must have had a similar thought when I read the book.

I don't (or didn't, until I looked at good old Wikipedia just now) know anything about Paul Gallico. Blackwell's Catalogue tells us that DW had a copy of Trial By Terror in his library, but it wasn't signed by the author, so whether or not DW ever corresponded with him, or met him, I don't know. He does appear to have had a strangely varied output, which also includes The Snow Goose, a biography of St Patrick, The Hurricane (aircraft) Story, and The Poseidon Adventure, as well as several novels about cats! Incidentally, he was a contemporary of DW, having been born in the same year (and dying less than eighteen months before DW).

I'd forgotten that there was a reference to a Gregory Sallust book in Curtain Of Fear; another instance of self-publicity!

I can't imagine (and can't be bothered to refer to the book!) what an elevator-style theatre box could be, unless it had sliding doors across the front; but how would this work if the box were horseshoe-shaped? If you can remember, I'd be interested to know... I've never been in a theatre box either.

I'm afraid I don't have much of a stomach (or should that be a head?) for politics, but I do remember that this book had several exciting passages in it, and whilst I'd agree it is not amongst DW's best, I don't think it's one of the worst either.

Have you decided yet which one to read next? (No need to tell us the title, if you want to surprise us!)

All Best,
Steve W

Posted: Tue 20 Dec, 2011 22:07:31
by Stevie P
Hi Steve,

Hope you are well.

Re. the number of books that I have read and reviewed. I'm really not sure as I've never counted them. My rationale ws to read all of DW's book's (with the exception of the dossiers as they were not really in the same category.
With that exception I have read every book from the earliest to the latest written (including the Non Ficction books) to 'Curtain of Fear'. So I will have a count up after this review. My next book is therefore going to be
The Iisland Where Time Stands Still' which I have never read before.

Re. the elevator theatre box. It was the theatre that was horse shoe shaped as are a lot of theatres today. The box itself was also similar to the bixes that we see today albeit smaller and the floor of the box dropped down (just like a lift) with everything on the floor with it. It all sounds very high-tech for those days!!

I think the next novel will be a more riveting read than some of the more recent.

Best wishes

Stevie P

Posted: Fri 30 Dec, 2011 22:44:21
by Cibator
I've been in a theatre box, just the once, when we were visiting back in Blighty in 1982. The play was so-so (I forget the title; it was about Eva Braun and Clara Petacci socialising together while their men conferred offstage), but had Glenda Jackson in it, so we decided on the spur of the moment to go in. And found there was a special five-quid offer on the box (way cheap even then), which we thought would be fun to try.

Well, I wouldn't recommend it, frankly! You're looking sideways at the action, and parts of the stage can't be seen at all. But of course the whole point of boxes was for the nobs to show themselves off to the rest of the audience, rather than watch the play. I'm not surprised they're hardly ever used now for their original purpose, mainly functioning these days as platforms for stage-lighting rigs and other electrical gear.

As far as I know the one we were in didn't have an elevator mechanism (just as well; suppose we'd inadvertently activated it). Odd that one in the Prague of 1953 should still be in working order - surely it would have been regarded as a piece of decadent bourgeois frippery!

I'd forgotten that Paul Gallico got a mention in this book. He and DW would have had quite a bit in common, I should think. Incidentally, it was PG who gave a terrific boost to Ian Fleming, another author whose works included extensive sequences of torture and hardship. He was reviewing the first James Bond book Casino Royale, and said something like "Get out of that office, boy, and write. Because you can!"

Posted: Sat 31 Dec, 2011 04:13:34
by Jim
Cibator wrote: I've been in a theatre box, just the once, when we were visiting back in Blighty in 1982. The play was so-so (I forget the title; it was about Eva Braun and Clara Petacci socialising together while their men conferred offstage), but had Glenda Jackson in it, so we decided on the spur of the moment to go in. And found there was a special five-quid offer on the box (way cheap even then), which we thought would be fun to try.
OMG, I saw that too (in October)! Summit Conference was a dreadful show, but it was the first time I had seen Jackson on stage--and playing the young officer, who got stripped by the leading ladies in the course of the play, was Gary Oldman, making his West End debut!

Posted: Sat 7 Jan, 2012 16:40:20
by Jim
Curtain of Fear is my first DW score of the New Year!

One of the nice things about living in the U.S. is that Wheatley has pretty much dropped off the radar here, so his books--when you can find them at all--often go for lower prices. I had a first of this title, but it lacked the dust jakcet, and was a bit worn. My new copy has a bright jacket and is in much better shape. It was listed at $25, and I was able to get a discount as well, so I am very pleased to "upgrade" my collection.

Next I am ordering the reproduction dust jacket for my U.S. first of The Eunuch of Stamboul...

Posted: Sun 8 Jan, 2012 22:03:29
by Charles
It may not be my favourite book (though I have to agree with Steve P it has its moments), but it certainly has a great dustjacket.

An excellent acquisition, Jim !

That prompts a thought for a new thread .... our favourite dustjackets ...

Thanks Steve W for the reminder re the great man's birthday ...

All best ...

Favourite Dustwrappers

Posted: Tue 10 Jan, 2012 00:28:37
by Steve Whatley
Ok Charles, I'll act upon your suggestion of a new thread, and list some of my favourite dustwrappers...

Where to start? I'll go through chronologically, and consider only first editions. Some reprint covers are better than the 1sts, but I'll leave them for a separate thread.

The Devil Rides Out I always consider as iconic amongst DW dw's.

I like The Eunuch Of Stamboul, although I'm not sure that the Eunuch looks menacing enough (more comical, I'd say), and I don't think the heroine looks that scared of him!

The recently-discovered variant dustwrapper for Contraband is to me a period classic.

Then there's The Quest Of Julian Day - very colourful and promising plenty of Egyptian mystery!

The Sword Of Fate is another period classic.

Mediterranean Nights, also Gunmen, Gallants And Ghosts have quite effective covers.

They Used Dark Forces is good and sinister...

The Eight Ages Of Justerini's has a nice feel to it.

And then two late classics: The Ravishing Of Lady Mary Ware and Desperate Measures - military subjects in similar styles, though by different artists.

That might seem a lot, but it's only eleven out of the huge DW output. Many of the others are perfectly good, but some I find rather strange.

Of course, one must consider not just the front cover, but also the spine (which can be quite eye-catching on a bookshelf) and the back (where a new photograph of the author may appear) and even the flaps!

I also find that I like a lot of the Omnibus Edition covers;

Those Modern Musketeers - both the 1939 version (perhaps because I've never seen one in the flesh) and the 1954 version, which is very smart. I can't decide which version I prefer.

The cover of The Secret Missions Of Gregory Sallust, with the hero parachuting into occupied territory in German uniform, has the perfect illustration to advertise the three titles contained in the volume.

The pinky-red cover of Roger Brook In The French Revolution is I think intented to make one think of bloody executions.

Death In The Sunshine and Plot And Counterplot also have quite effective designs.

Well, there they are - my favourite DW dustwrappers. I'm sure opinions will vary tremendously...

If I have to choose only one (which I now realise may have been Charles's intention), I think it would have to be the variant Contraband.

PS Sorry, everyone, I don't seem to be able to start a new thread. Charles, I'm sure you have the technology to move this post to a new subject heading?

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