By Dennis Wheatley
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Dennis Wheatley was a very popular writer of British mystery, espionage, and occult from the 30s to the 60s. His heroes were the precursor to James Bond in that they tend to be debonair but manly. If The Forbidden Territory is typical. his characters love adventure, adore the ladies, and relish a little top secret action now and then. But they seem to be very British...er...civilized. They never kill unless totally necessary. In this case, unlike James Bond who had a license to kill, they have a learner's permit.
The Forbidden Territory was Wheatley's first published novel (1933) but not his first written novel. His heroes are essentially a trio consisting of French aristocrat Duke de Richleau, the Jewish financier Simon Aron, and wealthy American Rex Van Ryn. One must applaud Wheatley's decision to have such a diverse group yet on paper they all come out sounding rather British. The plot hinges around Richleau and Aron going to Soviet Russia to save their friend Rex from prison. It seems he wandered off to "forbidden territories" that are closed to foreigners. He does have a secret agenda that supplies the motive and thrills for this adventure. On the way one of our rescuers, Simon, has a romance, runs into an especially nasty villain, and all concerned learn how to fly a plane on the run. If I seem a little tongue in cheek, it's because I'm not always sure how serious the author wishes us to take this. It's quite a romp with rather good action but I feel that the author is saying, "Gee! Isn't this clever?". But all in all, it's a lot of fun.
One of the more interesting elements is Wheatley's description of Stalinist Russia in the 30s. I do not know how accurate his description was for the time but Wheatley did have military intelligence background. He does seem to get across a good sense of what it may have been like to live under this dictatorship yet also communicate the basic geniality of the Russians. In this way, this novel may be a capsule of the British's, and American's, perception of the pre-cold war Soviet Union. It is one of the most interesting part of the book. But it is basically good adventure tale and a popular one for its time. Recommended for those who like rip-roaring tales and foreign intrigue.
Method Acquired: Netgalley