This is a 1934 supernatural novel by Dennis Wheatley. It remains a classic of the genre.
Set in 1930s London and the South of England, Duc de Richleau and Rex van Ryn rescue their friend Simon Aron from a devil-worshipping cult. Rex falls in love with another initiate of the cult, Tanith. Rex prevents Tanith from going to a ceremony on Salisbury Plain. The Duc and Rex rescue Simon from the ceremony. They escape to the home of the Eatons, friends of Richleau and van Ryn, and are followed by the group’s leader, Mocata, who has a psychic connection to the two initiates. After visiting the house to discuss the matter and an unsuccessful attempt to influence the initiates to return, Mocata forces Richleau and the other occupants to defend themselves through a night of black magic attacks. During this Mocata summons the Angel of Death using the medium of Tanith. The defeat of the Angel results in Tanith’s death.
After successfully defending themselves through the night the group find that Mocata has kidnapped the Eatons’ daughter. Simon exchanges himself for her. Mocata is using Simon to find the Talisman of Set, a powerful satanic object. The book culminates in a desperate chase across Europe to an abandoned Greek Monastery where Mocata is defeated. The group wake up in the Eatons’ home and realise that during the ceremony they entered the fourth dimension. Mocata is found dead outside the house. The Duc wakes up clutching the Talisman and destroys it. Tanith is found to be alive - Mocata’s soul has been exchanged for hers.
This work provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: In-universe example. Members of the cult are rebaptised with different names. The protagonists assume that Tanith has been given that name - but it is her true name. This is alongside other names such as Simon, Marie and Richard.
- All Just a Dream: A variation. The third act conflict is revealed to have taken place in the minds of the protagonists - not making it any less real however.
- Balancing Death's Books: According to the Duc, the Angel of Death must leave with someone's soul when summoned. Thankfully he leaves with Mocata's.
- Children Are Innocent: A major reason why Peggy's soul is used at the end.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The story takes place over the course of two days, the majority of action happening on the second night.
- Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death himself, on a white horse too, turns up at the culmination of the occult attack Duc de Richleau and the gang are subjected to. The Duc states that the last time the horsemen were unleashed, it was by Rasputin, who used them to begin the Great War.
- MacGuffin: The Talisman of Set.
- Magic Mirror: Mocata can use a mirror to scry on faraway places and see the future.
- Virgin Sacrifice: Attempted with Peggy at the end.
- Writer on Board: Wheatley could not resist the temptation to use his characters as mouthpieces for his social and political opinions.