It Came From Behind The Shelf No. 8

Reading & Writing


Back in the 1930s, supernatural/spy/crime author Dennis Wheatley wrote a series of four novels with JG Links that turned the traditonal whodunnit into an interactive puzzle. They were:

  • Murder off Miami (July 1936)
  • Who Killed Robert Prentice? (June 1937)
  • The Malinsay Massacre (April 1938)
  • Herewith the Clues! (July 1939)

It’s never been possible to repeat the formula of these books at an affordable price, but one volume, ‘Murder Off Miami’, was reprinted in the 1970s and became a collector’s item. Like the very first detective story, ‘The Notting Hill Mystery’, it consisted of letters, reports, plans and notes, but with the addition of photographs, a piece of bloodstained material, a burned match, a lock of hair and other pieces of evidence in little bags.

At the back of the book is a sealed section containing the solution to the mystery. I guess no-one is ever going to do anything like this again.

‘Really?’ said a friend, ‘Wheatley, out of print now? Are you sure?’ And indeed, a little checking proves the case. One of the world’s best-selling authors (he shifted over fifty million copies from the 1930s to the 1960s) is fading away. It’s not hard to see why; in our dark modern world Satanists seem rather quaint, and certainly not worthy of the hilarious warning Wheatley placed at the front of his supernatural novels about the ‘very real dangers’ of witchcraft.

Dennis Yates Wheatley (1897-1977) was an inventive, prolific author who conjured forbidden thrills by selling the virtually non-existent ‘reality’ of black magic to aghast British readers. In ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’, a monstrous malevolent spider-thing taps at Toby’s bedroom window trying to get in, and it’s there night after night. Toby is a wounded Battle of Britain pilot and thinks he’s hallucinating, but there are Satanic forces at work and he’s powerless to stop them. It’s a book that gave generations of teenaged boys nightmares, written three years after WWII and filled with the dread of Nazi invasion.

Gregarious and clubbable, Wheatley hailed from an upper middle-class family who owned a wine business. His adventure stories were packed with sex, Satanism and snobbery, linked with shared-world characters and teeming with ludicrous incident, giving him the kind of popular appeal Ian Fleming enjoyed. He was drawn to creating titled heroes in the grand traditional vein, like Gregory Sallust, ‘The man the Nazis couldn’t kill!’, but his fantastical novels were less stiff-necked and offered more disreputable hi-jinks. The author of ‘They Found Atlantis’ also invented board games.

Wheatley’s wife found him a job coordinating secret military deceptions for Winston Churchill, who asked him to suggest what the Germans were up to. Surprisingly, he was often near the mark, although his fears that they would invent a death ray proved unfounded.

‘The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult’ appeared in mass market paperbacks that brought new audiences, and Hammer adapted his work, their best being ‘The Devil Rides Out’, in which the Duc de Richleau defeats the forces of evil, although Hammer’s budget did not stretch to a chase across Europe and culminated in Buckinghamshire. Phil Baker’s superb biography, ‘The Devil Is A Gentleman’ fills in the details and catches Wheatley’s breathless appeal.

15 comments on “It Came From Behind The Shelf No. 8”

  1. Ken Murray says:

    You only have to say the words “Toby Jugg” and my mother (who is in her 80s) shudders visibly and it must be at least 50years since she read the book!

  2. Bob Low says:

    I read somewhere that Hammer intended to follow up ”The Devil Rides Out” with an adaptation of ”The Haunting of Toby Jugg”, and even commissioned another script from the great Richard Matheson, but the film was never made. I think Matheson completed the script-another one of the great lost films…..

  3. Simon Sperring says:

    How fascinating, an early example of multi-media entertainment I suppose. It’s not quite true to say that Wheatley is out of print though, I am reading ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ at the moment which is available to purchase new, on-line at least. But I do take your point, Wheatley no longer seems to receive the attention that his work deserves. ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ is a great read, quite cinematic in its description of scenes and action, it opens a window to a world and class that seems to have all but disappeared (if indeed it ever existed!).

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    In the Fifties, while I worked in a Doubledays book Shop, a more or less annual event was the publication of a sealed-ending book. If the customer quessed the exact ending, credit was given for another Doubleday Crime Book. This series was interesting in that each book was classified by the dust jacket’s spine as to the type of crime committed in the novel: a poison bottle logo, a magnifying glass, a tea cup, etc. One or two of John Dickson’s Carr’s mid-career novels also had a sealed last few chapters, so the reader could take the book into a store, break the seal and read the ending, possibly for a second book of equal value.
    The first Adam Hall spy novel, The Berlin Memorandum (1966), which was titled The Quiller Memorandum in the States had a terrific pocket inside the front cover that contained items related to the story. Very neat.
    I tried to buy a used copy of Murder off Miami several years ago, but it’s rare and a “good” copy was ex-pen-sive! Since you have clearly have a copy, what was your London address again? Just kidding.

  5. Bob Low says:

    Dan-it’s great to be reminded of the Quiller novels-I re-read a couple of the early ones last year, and they still hold up pretty well. Can you remember what was in the pocket?

  6. J. Folgard says:

    Every time you mention Wheatley it makes me want to check out his work. I’ve only seen (and liked) the Hammer movie, but I hope I’ll stumble upon ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’ one day.

  7. Bob Low says:

    There was a Wordsworth paperback edition of Toby Jugg available a couple of years ago-that’s when I got my copy-but it seems to have vanished, from Amazon anyway. None of his work has aged particulalry well, but his black magic novels are still highly entertaining, and quite pacey.

  8. RobertR says:

    In one of the multitude of remainder book shops which now fill modern malls and small town high streets (Book Clearance Centre) – I keep spotting a 4 novel compendium of Wheatley’s occult novels for about £4.99 hardback; think you’ve tempted me to take a punt

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    Bob: The edition I read in 1966 was the British first. I remember on the inside of the front cover was glued an envelope – I seem to remember it was buff and had a classified indication, Secret probably. Inside were six to eight items that somewhat related to the text. It’s been 47 years and I haven’t reread the book since I loaned it to my Dad to take to his New York boss to loan to his daughter. It never came back because she took her life and who would then ask it be returned. (Yes, I did this week mention another suicide, but I don’t intend to make it a habit. And I knew neither of the people.) There was, I think, a cable, a note, a pass, a dimmly lighted photograph, some form in German, and whatever else. In fact if anyone better knows what was in there and can add, or correct have, at it. Anyway, it was fun and several of the items actually gave you hints as to what was going on. A smart and interesting way to kick off a series.
    Maybe in his next, Admin could include a fuzzy hard candy, a used Hollywood shade of lipstick, a hairball, a napkin with curry stains, a page torn from a man’s little black book, a magical talisman, a bill from a private eye for wife-tracking services, and a list of pubs.
    (Now, where the heck is the graphic novel I ordered months ago?)

  10. snowy says:

    There are a few copies of the 1st Ed. of ‘The Berlin Memorandum’ on the UK Ebay site. I won’t put a direct link [as it will be stuck in the moderation queue] but they are easy to find via the search box.

    No mention of an envelope, but the sellers just seem to rack up the goods and sell them, quick sharp, though they encourage emails for further details before purchase.

    Looking again, there are half a dozen copies of ‘Murder off Miami’ on there as well. Most facsimilies as pictured above with all the bits and bobs, but a couple of 1st Ed’s as well, prices £5-25 + P&P.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    We saw images for The Devil Rides Out in an earlier item and I keep having the feeling of having read a Wheatley when I was in my teens. Who knows – as I used to read whatever was around and both parents read voraciously. I assume that Arthur Bryant has original copies of the Library of the Occult and the Toby Jugg.

  12. admin says:

    A link to all the dossiers was posted by my friend Michele at

    The Guardian had this to say about the clues in ‘Murder In Miami’;
    “Nuns from convents all over Europe provided the vital twists of hair for the new editions (the sample the detective finds is a mixture of gold strands and black).
    The used matches which play a part in the affair kept the printers busy after work, when their staff each took home several books and patiently struck their contents. Finally, a special chemical mixture provided a lasting bloodstain on the piece of curtain glued in each book, after the real blood donated by a director of the printing firm faded almost at once.”

  13. Bob Low says:

    Dan-thanks for satisfying my curiosity. It sounds like a lot of fun, as do the ”sealed ending” mysteries.

  14. Curtis Evans says:

    On my own blog, the Passing Tramp, I wrote about the American version of these books, specifically one done by Q. Patrick (actually two Brits!).

    By the way, I wanted to say that I enjoyed your piece in the Independent immensely, shared it with Facebook friends and wrote about it on my blog. Great job. My book Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery makes some of the same points.

  15. Gareth Reeve says:

    Im sorry but loved him when I was a kid

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