Strange Conflict

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gloomysundae
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Strange Conflict

Post by gloomysundae » Tue 18 Jul, 2006 13:49:44

World War II and, somehow, those pesky, lowdown Nazi's are intercepting our ships and sinking them! Sir Pellinore Gwaine-Cust is perplexed: it's unthinkable that there is a traitor in the ranks, so thank the Lord for the Duc de Richleau who immediately realises the truth - the Nazi's are utilising Black Magic!

De Richleau rounds up his posse from The Devil Rides Out - Rex Van Ryn, Simon Aron, Richard Eaton and Princess Mary Lou - and they head off for Cardinal's Folly for more pentagram fun and games. After 100 or so pages of adventures, most of them on the astral plane, De Richleau has located the adept to Haiti. Sir Pellinore pulls strings and they're all off to the sun. En route, they take a beautiful mute girl under their wing and she volunteers to be their guide when they reach the dark island.

The adept, meanwhile, has been awaiting them and, no sooner do they approach the island than their light aircraft is sucked out of the sky and they nearly drown. Then the sharks move in. Just when it seems all up for them, they are rescued by Doctor Saturday, an urbane mulatto who just happened to be out fishing. "What a nice man!" think the friends, and, having accepted the invitation to stay at his mansion for a few days, immediately set to grilling him about voodoo and cannibalism; when Richard and Rex sneak off to Kingston to replenish their lost magical implements, the Duc even feeds their host a line that they're on urgent Government business. "What a bunch of mugs!" thinks Dr. Saturday, who is, of course, the very Satanist they've travelled all this way to kill.

From here on in the novel moves at a breathless pace, taking in voodoo, zombies, body-snatching, mob rampage, and a scene-stealing walk-on by Pan. I can't agree with E. F. Bleiler that the ending is "unsatisfactory" though it is pretty abrupt (but certainly less so than that of "The Ka Of Gifford Hillary" which is downright outrageous). A definite plus point: the horror scenes are among his best, notably the penultimate chapter, "Coffins For Five", and an earlier, shorter sequence in which de Richleau frees the soul of a zombie.

Given the setting for much of the action, this isn't the xenophobia fest I was dreading: it's there, but certainly not as pronounced as in later novels and even the preaching has been toned down to the point where it doesn't drag on for page after page. The Negroes do a lot of annoying eye-rolling when terrified as per usual, which de Richleau finds endlessly amusing, and there's a reference to their alleged lack of bathing habits which seems entirely gratuitous, but the real hatred is focused on the Nazi's and their collaborators - notably in the character of the French assassin who moonlights as a pimp and his "filthy Jap" cohort - perfectly understandable given the circumstances. Even Dr. Saturday is allowed to explain his hatred for the British which stems from the abominable behaviour of his English father toward his mother.

A worthy successor to The Devil Rides Out? Yeah, I reckon it is.

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Re: Strange Conflict

Post by Hoyo de Monterrey » Fri 21 Jul, 2006 23:36:02

gloomysundae wrote:The Negroes do a lot of annoying eye-rolling when terrified as per usual, which de Richleau finds endlessly amusing, and there's a reference to their alleged lack of bathing habits which seems entirely gratuitous
To be fair, this quirk of DW's is not confined to negroes. Throughout his works one finds endless derogatory comments about people whose personal hygeine is not up to DW's bath-a-day standards - for example:

"That's true", said the Duke, thoughtfully. "Mon Dieu, how these people stink!" "Pretty awful" Simon agreed.
(re Russian peasants on the train in "Forbidden Territory").

Likewise in "The Ka of Gifford Hillary" Ankaret simply has to send her dresses to the cleaners because Christabel, who only (horror of horrors) bathes once a week, has tried them on. There are many more examples - look out for them!

I wonder if this desire for cleanliness was some sort of reaction to DW's experiences during his service in WWI? Certainly the most fastidious man I know ( a fellow ex-naval officer) spent most of his career in submarines, which (at least in those days) were not renowned for immaculate personal hygeine!
Last edited by Hoyo de Monterrey on Wed 26 Jul, 2006 23:00:58, edited 2 times in total.
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Bob Rothwell
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Re: Strange Conflict

Post by Bob Rothwell » Sun 23 Jul, 2006 18:03:48

Hoyo de Monterrey wrote:I wonder if this desire for cleanliness was some sort of reaction to DW's experiences during his service in WWI? Certainly the most fastidious man I know ( a fellow ex-naval officer) spent most of his career in submarines, which (at least in those days) were not renowned for immaculate personal hygeine!
Fascinating observation! You could well be right.
In 'Saturdays with Bricks', DW's guide to bricklaying interspersed with WW1 reminiscences, DW tells of his attempt to build a house whilst billeted in France. Whereas most would have been quite happy just to have a solid roof over their heads, our Dennis gave quite a lot of thought as to the construction of a bathroom.
Saturdays with Bricks, [i](Hutchinson, London, 1961)[/i], pp.19-20 wrote:[font=Times New Roman][align=justify]...There remained the matter of procuring a bath, and in those days such aids to cleanliness were almost unknown in small French villages. In vain I searched the heaps of rubble; I was most averse to making do with the folding canvas affair that formed part of my camp equipment. That I solved the difficulty satisfactorily was due to my admiration for the great civilization of ancient Rome. Why not a sunken Roman bath, which would enable me to wallow in real luxury?...[/align][/font]

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Post by Hoyo de Monterrey » Wed 26 Jul, 2006 22:46:37

Very interesting, Bob. To my shame I haven't (yet) read "Saturdays with Bricks", but your quote rather tends to confirm my theory. Many thanks for pointing it out - I'm off to have a bath!
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First Rate Thriller

Post by Esmond » Thu 26 Jun, 2008 05:57:25

Excellent summary of another gem by the inimitable DW.

Whilst not up to THE DEVIL RIDES OUT it is still very good and one of my favorites.

Wheatley had a profound knowledge of his subject and it really shines through.
Even today his education of the finer points is still superb.

One is, of course, constrained to say that Mr Wheatley's world view is scorned today and is enough to make any respectable contemporary get the vapors.
Even the greatest seekers after Truth have done little more than lift the corner of the veil which hides the vast Unknown...
--Duke de Richleau

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Post by Nick » Fri 27 Jun, 2008 19:37:12

I felt that DW was trying to repeat the commercial success of DRO with Strange Conflict, and on the first reading felt that the novel did not compare favourably. Over the years and several readings later, I feel that the story is as compelling as DRO and stands well in its own right. It helps to have one of the rare copies of Chris. Lee reading an abridged version on four cassettes. It certainly helps the days work pass quickly, and some of the action sequences are years ahead of their time, and seem fresh on every hearing or reading. Then again I am completely enamoured of anything with the name DeRichleau attached to it.

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Post by Esmond » Sat 28 Jun, 2008 05:24:11

Nick,

I am going to start a reread of SC as soon as I compete my reread of TDRO.

DW is one of the rare breed amongst writers in that the more you read his works the better they seem, how many other authors could we name that also holds such a spell over the reader?

I enjoyed Lee's autobiography, a consummate actor, and a dear friend of DW of whom he speaks in the book.

Would any of us not jump at the chance to live in a London, an England of the time of the Duc?

I tell you the world of that time WAS a better place than today by all reports, at least to those of us who share that same, what word to use? Spirit!
Even the greatest seekers after Truth have done little more than lift the corner of the veil which hides the vast Unknown...
--Duke de Richleau

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Post by Charles » Sun 29 Jun, 2008 07:36:57

While I would completely agree with anyone (everyone ?) who says that 'The Devil Rides Out' is DW's classic Black Magic novel, Strange Conflict remains my favourite.

The scenes where the Duke is trailing the secret instructions on the astral, and later where he and his friends have their fabulous Astral battle where they endlessly morph from shape to shape have, for me, no equal anywhere in literature for inventiveness and compelling excitement.

I also found the ending deeply satisfying - the Duke being forced to set aside all his magical impedimenta, and battle the baddie with only his internal resources.

The book was, for me, as magical as its subject, and I completely agree with Nick when he says it is ripe for modern film making.

A pity Hitchcock never got to film the DW novels when he was so keen.

I'd like to get in a time machine and set that one staight !

All best to everyone
Charles

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Post by duncanpaul17 » Tue 15 Jul, 2008 21:01:36

I also think Strange Conflict is an excellent book in its own right, and is ripe to be made into either a modern film, or as I have previously posted, a mini TV series along with The Devil Rides Out and Gateway To Hell.

Although the De Richleau series involve my favourite characters, I was initially drawn to DW's work through his Black Magic stories, and I think it was clever of him to write Black magic stories involving his two other main characters, thus drawing his readers into following their exploits.

Best regards to all

Duncan

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Post by Charles » Sat 19 Jul, 2008 07:53:38

I sometimes think DW was almost as clever in promoting his books as he was in writing them.

Although I loved his short story 'A Life For A Life', I never felt however that the non Duke de Richleau Black Magic books were quite as wonderful as the Duke's ones.

Am I alone in this ?

All the best to everyone
Charles

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