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 Three Inquisitive People - The Beginning 
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In the early 1930?s DW was suffering the severe effects of 'The Slump'. He was doing his best to prevent bankruptcy.
It was his second wife Joan who came to the rescue. DW had shown her some of the short stories he had written years before, just for fun. One day she said: 'Why don't you write a book? I'm sure you could'
He decided that having a shot at it would at least take his mind of his worries; so he bought some paper and sat down to write a thriller.

It was DW's feeling that Louis' (Joan?s father) meanness and influence over DW's mother which stopped her giving him at least some financial help led DW to portray him as murdering her for her money by drowning her in a bath in a Curzon Street flat.
The night of this murder brought together the Duke de Richleau, Simon Aron, Rex van Ryn and Richard Eaton for the very first time.

Joan typed the book and by mid July 1932 it was finished.
On the 23rd August DW learned that Messrs Hutchinson had accepted his book for publication.
Towards the end of 1932 the writing bug had well and truly got to DW and he wrote several short stories and another thriller. The second book was called The Forbidden Territory.
Both DW and Hutchinson agreed that the second book was better than the first and so it was decided that it should be published as his first book.

Three Inquisitive people didn?t appear in print until 12th December 1939 as one of four stories contained within the first omnibus edition of Wheatley?s work.
"Nothing would have induced me to publish it as a separate volume at my normal new novel rate of eight and sixpence, because I do not consider it up to the standard of my other books. But since the three already published books alone form an omnibus of normal length, I thought 'Three Inquisitive People' might just as well go into print for the sole reason that it does tell how the four friends originally met, which may interest people who have already read one or more of the other books and I gladly give it to you for nothing."'From Me to You', DW Introduction to 'Those Modern Musketeers' 1939
Arrow paperbacks however didn't give it to the public for nothing. It was released by them in 1960 for 2 shillings and sixpence.

This is the first novel written by Dennis Wheatley. It is where the 'Fab Four' (His Grace The Duke de Richleau, Simon Nathaniel Aron , Rex Mackintosh van Ryn and Richard Elmsdale Eaton) meet.

It certainly isn't DW's greatest work but I certainly don' think its as bad as it's sometimes made out to be. I didn't at any time become disinterested, (as I did occasionally when reading the two non-fiction books, Old Rowley & Red Eagle) and it does have a number of interesting details within the storyline.
I also feel it has a very strange feel to it; almost surreal, which I must admit to liking.
In fact the settings remind me of my early childhood in London and I can really relate to the images that DW instils.

The story is based in London and concerns the sudden death of Lady Elinor Shoesmith - formerly Elinor Eaton (Richard Eaton?s mother) in a flat opposite the Dukes in Curzon Street, Mayfair.

Rex Van Ryn has been given a letter of introduction from his father who is currently the President of the Chesaspeake Banking and Trust Corporation in America .
He wants Rex to meet people of influence. Rex reluctantly keeps the appointment.

When they first meet, Rex studies the Duke closely. He notes that he is a slim delicate looking man, somewhat above middle height, an aquiline nose and greying hair, a thin delicate face that seemed as if it should have ended in a beard. (I always visualise the Duke with a beard. Perhaps he grows one later or perhaps it is the dust jacket illustrations from DW's books or more likely the film of 'The Devil Rides Out' in which Christopher Lee portrays the Duke as he should be -with a beard!!!).
'Beneath grey 'devils' eyebrows were grey eyes flecked with yellow, of an almost piercing brilliance. It needed only the cordon of some distinguished order across the white shirt front of his almost too perfect evening dress to imagine him the accredited representative of some great foreign power in the days before the war'.

Rex and the Duke both get on extremely well from the beginning and after a few drinks at the Mausoleum Club and a quick visit to the Duke's flat, Rex is just about to leave when the door of the flat opposite is flung open and a frightened maid screams that her mistress is dead.
Richard Eaton becomes the prime suspect even though matricide is very rare. Simon Aron (his friend) is also suspected for a while.
As the Duke and Rex were involved from the outset they attempt to unravel the mystery of the murdered woman in the bath (with a little help from Superintendent Marrowfat and Inspector Gartside from New Scotland Yard!!).

By virtue of some 'super sleuthing' by the new friends together with the legal assistance of Simon's solicitor Mr Granville Schatz they prepare to unravel the mystery of whodunnit!!


Page 10 - (Arrow Paperback) The Duke tells Rex that he is perhaps '..a little more than twice his age'. The Duke at this stage is 56 years old.

I note that the Duke's name is spelt 'De Richleau' (1932).
In the next book 'The Forbidden Territory' (1933) he changes to 'De Reichleau').
In 'The Devil Rides Out' (1934) he reverts to De Richleau.
The usual observation amongst DW readers is that DW changed away from the De Reichleau name in order to distance himself from the Third Reich (Third Empire) connections which was prevalent during the years of Hitler's dictatorship after 1933.
However, the war was still 5 years away when he wrote 'TDRO'.
Why change back in 1934?

Page 13 - Rex's fated wife to be 'Lady Felicity Standish' receives a first mention.

Page 44 - Rex says to the Duke, 'Can you beat it? Talk about 'The Frozen Mitt'
Now, this is a totally new one on me. I did some digging on the net and apparently this term means to receive a 'chilly reception'.

Page 66 - This next comment from Lady Felicity to Rex surprised me.
'Lets go to the Hungaria 'the music's such fun. We can dance if we want to, or just sit and watch the queers'.
(The Hungaria Restaurant was a real restaurant situated in Lower Regent Street. DW visited it 'countless times'.)

On page 127 the Duke say's to Simon- 'No, he is what you term a queer, he took the flat because it was at the top of the building and he wanted a studio'.
(I began to wonder if the term meant something different to what it does now but I'm not so sure it does.)

Page 76 - Describes why Sir Gideon Shoesmith tried to encourage his wife from selling one of her properties in order to help Richard Eaton with his severe financial difficulties. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this is a reference to Louis who gave DW the idea for Sir Gideon?s character.

Page 86 - Simon Aron is aged 26 as of 23rd November 1931.

Page 123 - This is the first mention of the famous 'Hoyo de Monterray' cigars. The Duke informs us that the Anillo d'Oro's are the best.

Page 138 ? The Duke tells Simon the story of his enforced exile from France for supporting the Duke de Guise in the hopes of restoring the monarchy. The Duke de Richleau was deeply implicated in a political conspiracy to bring about a 'coup d'etat'.

Page 174-177 - Superintendant Marrofat's dislike of Homosexuals becomes apparent when talking to Cedric Carrington Smythe of his meeting with the suspected murderer.

Page 177 'A reference to another defunct Underground station 'Down Street'
The disused 'Mark Lane' underground station was mentioned in DW's previously published book 'The Scarlet Imposter'.

Page 179 'DW (in the guise of Richard Eaton) gives details of two stories that he very much appreciates.
The Field of Mustard' A.E Coppard & The Giaconda Smile 'Aldous Huxley.
They are two of the finest murder stories that he had ever read., both so true to life, so devastatingly possible and in both these stories the wrong man got hanged.

Page 183 - Richard is imprisoned for a short while - his biggest complaint is that he as unable to smoke whilst there.
'Absolute torture' he states.
' A scandal agree's the Duke'
'Better get busy with one or two of your MP's' suggest Rex.

Page 207 - A quite unbelievable 'chance meeting' when the Duke and Simon were visiting Winifred Eaton in her cottage near Liphook on the Hampsire/West Sussex border. Approx 50 miles away from central London.
Rex and Felicity being tempted by the sunshine decided to take a drive out into the country and just happened to have a fatal car crash just walking distance from Winifreds house!!!!!!

Page 220 - Rex Marries Lady Felicity.

Page 223 - Lady Felicity dies.





I've included some comments below which were written by Alan on the book (See The Library's 'General Topics' section ' Wheatleys Darkest work') .
A very well written and apt description of the style of writing in this novel.
The dialogue, the depth of character (in Simon in particular), the walk-on characters (including a truly revolting portrait of a gay, and some nasty homophobia), and the general atmosphere suggest more decadent Noel Coward than the normal upbeat adventure-story writings typical of Wheatley. The final "last straw" was Rex's marriage, to a paralyzed bride, with the two of them being allowed a few precious hours in bed together by the others, all of whom (including the girl herself) knowing that she's living out her final hours. Truly heavy stuff!
My last observation is regarding the title of the book.
The title 'Three Inquisitive People' does not appear in the index of Dennis Wheatley?s Autobiography. This doesn't mean to say it isn't mentioned in the body of the books as old indexes weren't totally foolproof prior to computerisation and I haven't read the Autobiography from over '..yet!!
DW refers to it as his first novel but doesn't seem to name it. Was he so unimpressed with it that he didn't give it a name or was the name delayed due to the fact that it wasn't published straight away?
Perhaps it wasn't named until it appeared in the omnibus edition?
If anyone can shed any light on this I'd be grateful.


Last edited by Stevie P on Thu 5 Jun, 2008 08:54:00; edited 2 times in total
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Thanks for this detailed run-down on this book. I didn't think it was bad, either, when I read it, though on a lesser scale than the grand adventures.

I wonder if the Duke's name was "de Reichleau" in the original manuscript, but was then changed to conform with the spelling that had been used in the other books when it was set for the omnibus.
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I agree Jim, a really excellent synopsis of this work. I stand by my original comments that the book's way different from DW's usual breezy style, but I enjoyed seeing StevieP's different focus.

Like Stevie I'm puzzled by the references to "watching the queers" - I think it might have been a slang term that can differ in meaning depending on context, in much the same way that "gay" can today. Example, it can be perfectly respectful to speak of a homosexual as a "gay male", yet a tad insulting to describe a trite, twee TV show as "a bit gay"... "Queers" appears to have meant homosexuals in some contexts, and generally weird, unusual people in others. Today one might say "let's watch the ferals and weirdos"... (I speak as an Aussie here, possibly the UK or USA or Canada has other local slang).

Interesting that DW didn't think the book was good enough for public sale. While not his best, I think it stands up well against many other thrillers of the period. The plotting is particularly good for a first novel. And this is the man who wrote (shudder) "Star of Ill Omen", don't forget!
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Alan

I have never finished Three Inquisitive People. Could never get into it. I will try again.

I'm not entirely sure but I think the term "queer" had origins from the 1920s and 1930s, originally meaning the non-conformist, maybe longish-haired arty types. The unconventional cliques they frequented were often known as "queer sets." Generally, these cliques attracted homosexuals and "queer" become associated with and used to describe homsexuality. By the 1940,s and 1950's it was in general use - Jack Kerouac, spokesman for the Beat Generation described his homosexual friends as "queer."

It would be interesting to know what DW meant when he wrote "watching the queers." And I suppose we must acknowledge that DW came across (no pun intended) as very anti-homosexual.

Finally, we read that Chorion want to introduce DW to the next generation. However, will that generation understand when they read that the Duke was a "gay companion" or when Kuporovitch, under influence of the Truth Drug, tells Marshal Voroshilov "you were always one for the gay life when you could get it"
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>
Finally, we read that Chorion want to introduce DW to the next generation. However, will that generation understand when they read that the Duke was a "gay companion" or when Kuporovitch, under influence of the Truth Drug, tells Marshal Voroshilov "you were always one for the gay life when you could get it"


Actually I think they probably will. They'd understand that words mean different things in different contexts - after all, they read all sorts of literature in school, see old movies, download old songs, etc. It will probably be the more intelligent, thoughtful kind of person that reads DW anyway.
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I read this one for the first time a few months ago and I think that, for all its first-novel deficiencies, it's a very interesting book to read if one is an existing Wheatley fan, particularly for those of us who love the de Richleau series.

It has many faults, and one can easily see why "The Forbidden Territory" was published in preference to it, and it's certainly one for DW enthusiasts only, but I still quite enjoyed reading it (until the bizarre and somewhat disturbing ending, of which more later).

The most interesting thing, for me, was seeing the way in which DW formulated the four characters who would come to be so important in later books - the Duke de Richleau, Rex, Simon and Richard. And what's truly interesting about this is that these are the characters as DW originally conceived them, not years later, with the benefit of hindsight. So, for example, I read "Vendetta in Spain" earlier this year, an early de Richleau adventure, where he fights the good fight against Anarchists in Spain in the early years of the twentieth century, which is fine, but you know that DW is writing this on the back of several previous de Richleau novels, enabling him to retrospectively shape the character and his back story to conform with the books that were set later, but written earlier. But in "Three Inquisitive People" you're seeing these characters at their inception, which is what made it quite fun to read.

So with that in mind, de Richleau, Rex and Simon are pretty much how one would expect them to be at that stage in their literary lives - de Richleau, the wise voice of authority and the natural leader of the group, erudite, cultured and faintly exotic; Rex, likeable, well meaning, not terribly bright; Simon, diffident and slightly quirky, with all his various little mannerisms that we later come to see so well. But Richard was quite different to how I would have expected him to be. I have to confess here, that I'm a huge Richard Eaton fan, and he's long been my favourite of the four. I mean, I obviously love the Duke. He's someone I respect, admire, look up to, revere; someone I'd like to think I'd follow into Hell (and, of course, in a DW novel, that's not an entirely metaphorical concept!). But I wouldn't want to be him. Way too intense, and with too much responsibility on his shoulders. But I'd love to be Richard Eaton, He's the character with whom I feel by far the most empathy, with a similar sort of sensibility, and think he's great in "The Golden Spaniard".

And I just love the life that DW created for Richard - the gentleman-farmer with the substantial private income, the beautiful Warwickshire (or occasionally Worcestershire?!?) home that's Cardinal's Folly, married to the beautiful and aristocratic Marie Lou, the charming daughter, the whole thing just sounds great. Anyway, one can but dream, but I also like that slightly tweedy, dufferish side to his character as well. I think Paul Eddington portrayed him very well in the film version of "The Devil Rides Out" (you just have to get past the hideous monogrammed blazer, and after that it's fine).

So I was interested to see how DW first conceived him, and he's actually quite different to how I would have expected him. He's quite bookish, a bit callow and even slightly bohemian, which is fine in this particular book, but not the Richard I thought I knew. I would maybe have expected a military background, not like a whole career, but a few years commissioned in his county regiment; or else maybe some background in the colonial service. Something like that. So the young Richard didn't quite work for me. Maybe DW never intended on him becoming a major, recurring character - the book is entitled "Three Inquisitive People", after all, and he isn't one of the three - and so didn't invest as much thought in his development. Anyway, I'm glad that he eventually turned out in the way that he did.

As far as the story itself is concerned, it's a not very remarkable London clubland murder mystery, a sort of poor man's Dorothy L Sayers, the detail of which I've already forgotten. I don't think that crime fiction was really DW's forte, and evidently neither did he.

One thing I did find quite interesting was the depiction of upper-middle class life in the capital in those days, and particularly all the copious eating and drinking. This was a time when people would have both dinner and supper, and I did raise my eyebrows at Rex's prolific rate of consumption in particular (although this is a character who, while searching Simon's deserted house, early in "The Devil Rides Out", breaks off to help himself to an enormous slice of duck liver pate from the abandoned buffet table!). So, on day one of the action, which starts with Rex dining with the Duke at his club (nice scene), an obviously good meal, accompanied by cocktails, wine and liqueurs, doubtless preceded by breakfast and luncheon and, for all I know, afternoon tea and elevenses as well, the evening ends with them having a late supper with Simon. Not a major meal, of course - just your average midnight snack of foie gras, followed by a woodcock, and washed down with a 1906 Burgundy!

A thought about this. DW wrote this book out of economic necessity, at a time when he was very strapped for cash, and having to cut back on a lot of things, which must have been hard for someone who so enjoyed living well. So I wonder if there was a bit of escapism at play here, and if the writing reflects a certain longing on DW's part. A bit like Evelyn Waugh writing "Brideshead Revisited" as a soldier in austere circumstances in WWII, and getting so carried away with the luxuriance of life amongst the Brideshead set that he described a scene that was anachronistically more 1890s than 1920s. Still one of the most brilliant books ever written, though.

Anyway, I digress, but that aspect was quite interesting, and even if the story isn't really very good, I so love these characters, and being in their company, that I enjoyed reading the book.

But the ending! OMG! What on earth was going on there? What was DW thinking, with the whole thing with Lady Felicity getting mortally injured, and then having the marriage with Rex, attended on by the Duke and Simon? It's just gruesome and weird and, frankly, borderline creepy. And isn't the whole reason Lady Felicity had a fatal car crash in the first place because Rex prompted her to drive the car off the road by trying to break things off with her? So isn't it all, kind of, his fault? Still, lucky coincidence Simon and the Duke just happening to be on hand, right in that spot in the middle of the Hampshire countryside! All very peculiar. A real DW aberration.

Finally, I read the book on my Kindle, but I've got a nice hardback Hutchinson copy I bought for a pound in a charity shop, with a painted board cover, and portraying - even though it has nothing to do with the actual story, so talk about a misleading cover - Rex and the aforementioned Lady Felicity.

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Richard Webster :
One thing I did find quite interesting was the depiction of upper-middle class life in the capital in those days, and particularly all the copious eating and drinking. This was a time when people would have both dinner and supper, and I did raise my eyebrows at Rex's prolific rate of consumption in particular (although this is a character who, while searching Simon's deserted house, early in "The Devil Rides Out", breaks off to help himself to an enormous slice of duck liver pate from the abandoned buffet table!). So, on day one of the action, which starts with Rex dining with the Duke at his club (nice scene), an obviously good meal, accompanied by cocktails, wine and liqueurs, doubtless preceded by breakfast and luncheon and, for all I know, afternoon tea and elevenses as well, the evening ends with them having a late supper with Simon. Not a major meal, of course - just your average midnight snack of foie gras, followed by a woodcock, and washed down with a 1906 Burgundy!


You've just described my experiences at the the DW conventions (from what I can remember anyway).

A great post, Richard, it took awhile to find time to read it.

I similarly read Three Inquisitive People for the first time recently and I was pleasantly surprised by how un-DW it was. At the time I thought it was a more mature piece of work with much of the typical DW excesses (in a good way) stripped down to a more fashionable crime drama. And then I found out it was his first attempt at writing a novel - there goes my literary criticism credentials going up in smoke!!!

I like your Richard Eaton analysis, quite insightful. I must confess my view of the character is completely overwhelmed by Paul Eddington's portrayal. Actually I have seen the film TDRO so much that the actors have completely taken over - except Marie Lou. I still use my original imagined character from when I first read Princess Marie Lou's description in The Forbidden Territory - French heritage, Russian upbringing, her tiny figure, pointed chin, retroussť nose, incredibly blue eyes, red mouth, close cropped curls, sitting like a prize Persian kitten. The Persian kitten description is repeated in further DW books, including TDRO. Sarah Lawson provides an excellent performance (particularly in the scene when Mocata visits - she's great) but I don't see her when I read Marie Lou.

The point about DW writing out of economic necessity and using the writing process to live his feasting fantasies is interesting, and thank you for the Evelyn Waugh comparison - I didn't know that. And it is probably one of the rare occasions that those two authors are compared.

I now read all my DW fiction on kindle - I find it a more pleasurable experience - but my research is done by flicking through the actual books, I can't scan through or skim read a kindle.

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Darren :
The point about DW writing out of economic necessity and using the writing process to live his feasting fantasies is interesting, and thank you for the Evelyn Waugh comparison - I didn't know that. And it is probably one of the rare occasions that those two authors are compared.


I don't know if Waugh and Wheatley ever met (or if they had, which would have thought themselves the most grand!), but there is one tenuous connection between them, on a "Golden Spaniard" theme, as it happens. They were amongst a tiny handful of British writers who defied convention by publicly supporting the nationalists over the republicans in the Spanish Civil War, whilst over a hundred of their fellow writers declared for the leftist Spanish government, in an exercise called "Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War". I'm fairly sure that Arthur Machen was also part of this very small group. He's well worth reading, btw, and was a major influence upon modern horror writers like Stephen King and Peter Straub. The Great God Pan, The Shining Pyramid and The Hill of Dreams are all very good works of his.
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Richard Webster :
I'm fairly sure that Arthur Machen was also part of this very small group. He's well worth reading, btw, and was a major influence upon modern horror writers like Stephen King and Peter Straub. The Great God Pan, The Shining Pyramid and The Hill of Dreams are all very good works of his.

Machen was also for a brief time a member of the Golden Dawn, alongside Aleister Crowley & co. I don't think he ever really took to their teachings or activities though.

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