"I desire to state that I, personally, have never assisted at, or participated in, any ceremony connected with Magic - Black or White....Should any of my readers incline to a serious study of the subject, and thus come into contact with a man or woman of Power, I feel that it is only right to urge them, most strongly, to refrain from being drawn into the practice of the Secret Art in any way. My own observations have led me to an absolute conviction that to do so would bring them into dangers of a very real and concrete nature." (DENNIS WHEATLEY)"
Does anybody read Dennis Wheatley any more? Remember those tacky book clubs ads at the back of The Sunday Times magazine? “A collection of almost sinful luxury”...”now, if you dare, accept this wickedly handsome volume...” “luxuriously bound in scarlet kidron...” ”sumptious golden tooling...” “silken book-ends...”
The advertisement showed the naked- and appealing- back of a girl kneeling before a cowled monk, like extras from that Hammer wunderwerk, The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Now if you were eleven years old, this was tantilising stuff. Verboten. Dog-eared paperbacks of To the Devil- A Daughter were traded surreptitiously during playground breaks.
And all these years later, I’m still an unashamed fan of the Old Boy. These days he’s mainly remembered for the occult stuff, (funnily enough he only wrote eight of ‘em) but during the 1960’s he was one of Britain’s best-selling thriller writers, churning out splendid pulp in the manner of Dornford Yates or Sapper. His prose can, at times, be turgid, but, By Jove, the man knew how to spin a yarn and his work shows an extraordinary- and at times, bizarre, imagination. There’s a terrific biography by Phil Baker, which comes with my personal recommendation: The Devil is a Gentleman, the Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley.
Wheatley’s early career was spent as a Mayfair wine merchant. For the select few who collect his books in first editions, there’s a charming (and little known) title to add to the pile: The Seven Ages of Justerini’s.
In 1949 Wheatley was asked to write a history of Justerini & Brooks, the distinguished St James’s wine merchants, to celebrate the bi-centenary of the firm. It’s worth getting hold of a copy (or the later revised and expanded edition) in as much that it contains Giacomo Justerini’s original eighteenth century recipes for home made liqueurs, cocktails and wines. Here’s one for Nectarine Gin. Wheatley had a notoriously sweet tooth and liked to serve it to as an after-dinner liqueur at Grove Place, his country house in Lymington, Hampshire.
Prick your Nectarines all over with a fork and put them in an open vessel. Pour upon them as much Gin as will cover the fruit, and add a quarter-of-a-pound of soft white sugar with each quart of Gin. Cover the vessel with a cheese cloth and leave to stand, Give the contents a stir twice or thrice in the next forty-eight hours, then strain off the liquor and bottle it.
I haven’t made this- as yet, so please don’t blame me if it’s far too sweet for modern tastes. You might need to play around with the amount of sugar to add. The revised edition (The Eight Ages of Justerini’s), also includes recipes for Dennis Wheatley’s favourite cocktails. I like his take on Bloody Mary, which includes bouillon:
Dennis Wheatley’s Bloody Mary
One nip Tomato Juice, one Sherry glass Vodka-Smirnoff, one Sherry glass Campbells Beef Bouillon, one nip Worcester Sauce, half glass- Lime or Lemon- fresh, ice- shake until froth appears- serve.
And his recipe for Whisky Sour, one of my all-time favourite cocktails:
Dennis Wheatley’s Whisky Sour
One large Sherry glass J & B rare Scotch Whisky, half Sherry glass Syrop de Gomme or half Sherry glass sweet Lemon Squash- Lime or Lemon juice squeezed equal to above with sugar to taste, ice- shake very well till it froths- serve.