Dennis Wheatley - The Ka Of Gifford Hillary (Hutchinson, 1956: Arrow, 1968, etc.)
He makes the most incredible seem absolutely real .... SUNDAY TIMES
Sir Gifford Hillary returns from the grave - now accused of murder.
'Killed' by one of his wife's lovers, he becomes a Ka unseen but seeing all.
Plot and counter-plot, ruse and subterfuge, lead through a story of extraordinary fascination and excitement: a story which seems at first fantastic but is later seen to be entirely logical
100 pages in to this narrative by the troubled Sir Gifford "Giff" Hillary, now awaiting trial for the murder of the fiendish Welshman, Professor Evans, the man responsible for his own temporary death!
Giff's demise began the day the Minister of Defence made an appeal to his patriotism over a business matter. Hillary is happy to help, but must convince his fellow board members to forgo a lucrative contract in the interests of National Security versus the Russians. On page 22, Wheatley advises:
" ... any reader of this document who is uninterested in future strategy and our measures for countering the threat of Soviet aggression will lose nothing by omitting the next few thousand words and resuming the account on p. 40"
I didn't take him up on this, but his judgement proved to be sound: indeed, you can safely shoot on to p.66 if you wish to avoid a political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party cunningly disguised as a boardroom meeting, as this stuff serves merely to bog the story before it gets going.
It's only with the advent of Prof. Evans and his "death ray" that things pick up again. Ankaret, bored to distraction while recovering from a leg injury, has embarked on an affair with this unlikely fellow. Giff already suspects his young wife (26 years old to his 42) is a nymphomaniac and has come to tolerate her regular flings. Evans is deadly serious about winning her away from our hero and resolves on murder. On the pretext of demonstrating his lethal weapon on a rabbit, he instead blasts Giff!
Evans goes to Ankaret to tell her that it's all gone to plan and she must assist him in dumping her husband's body or they'll both swing. Ankaret is appalled - this imbecile has murdered the only man she's ever loved! Meanwhile, Giff is watching all this, having been ousted from his body when the death ray hit him. He is, in effect a Ka or ghost, unseen by all but aware of everything that is going on around him ....
Just passed p. 150 now (200 to go) and so far absolutely nothing to qualify the "A Black Magic Story" categorisation, but there have been amazing developments.
As with many of DW's books, I'm finding it difficult to sympathise with the "heroes" (and heroine) of the piece.
After avenging her husband's death, Ankaret forges a confession-cum-suicide-note in Sir Gifford's hand, inventing a spurious rape as his motive for beating the hapless Evans' brains out. Giff's ghost looks on in admiration. He'd found it all very arousing watching his young wife flailing at the Professor with an iron rod ... until she'd kept it up rather longer than was necessary.
Johnny discovers Sir Giff's body the following morning (Evans and Ankaret had dumped it in the Solent). Certain that his friend has been murdered he vows to stop at nothing until the scumbag responsible swings. Consequently, the contents of the forged note comes as quite a shock to him. Johnny is mystified as to why Hillary would kill himself just because he'd offed a love rival. With a good brief, he'd be out in less than ten years, especially if:
" ... Ankaret had gone into the box and testified to the assault mentioned in the letter. Or better still have gone the whole hog and sworn that Evans had raped her"
This, from people who are appalled at the absence of moral scruple in those who lack "breeding" is hard to stomach, more-so when it transpires that they all knew that Ankaret didn't need too much encouragement to hop into bed with anyone who amused her.
On the plus side, Sir Gifford is getting used to his non-corporeal existence and experimenting with his new powers. We've learned he had a morbid fear of premature burial - cue a quick reference to a horrible case in Paris - and so his funeral is being arranged after his wishes. Just as well, from what I can recall of coming events ...
Franklin Marsh wrote:
Great stuff Dem - I've avoided the spoiler orgy as I've picked up a copy today (in lieu of Strange Conflict) - the 1970 version (Why haven't I got a scanner?). A goat's head on the back reminds me of the copy of Gateway To Hell I used to have. That must have been the series trademark.
Trust you to have one with a goats head!
All of mine seem to have the photo of DW reclining in his smoking jacket, like this from the backside of The Irish Witch
Yet More Spoilers
"No doubt that is just the sort of way the events of which I am the central character would have developed had this been a Dennis Wheatley thriller"
Giff's ghost cadges a lift from the unsuspecting Johnny Norton and is surprised to find the younger man pulling up outside a Putney non-mansion. The door is opened by Christabel, Giff's daughter by his first marriage.
Now inside the modest house, Sir Hillary sets to reassuring the reader that the furniture is entirely the fault of his taste-free zone of a first wife, Edith, who doesn't look anything near as good as she did when he was with her, although he's sad to see she is with hearing aid. Christabel's haircut disagrees with his sensibilities, and he can't find a kind word to say about 18 year old Harold, his son, who squanders his time and money on drinking with his left wing friends (or "embryo traitors", as our hero would have it). To be fair, the children don't think much of him either and go on about his stinginess toward them extending beyond the grave.
Eavesdroppers never hear good about themselves and Hillary spends an eternity pondering his actions and justifying them as best he can. Autobiographical or otherwise, this is certainly the most horrible and painful episode in the novel to date, and made this reader feel a voyeur on a par with the snooping spook. When Giff hangs around long enough for Christabel to return home from a cinema date, he realises the depths to which she has sunk and contemplates suicide. Realising that, as he's already dead, this is no longer an option, he goes slumming it to cheer himself up.
"I decided that I must make an effort to rouse myself from the slough of despondency into which I had fallen, and that the best way to do so would be to make use of my extraordinary asset of invisibility. By it i could enter houses unseen and listen to the most intimate conversations. That at least offered a prospect of taking my mind off my own worries"
Becoming a fully fledged Peeping Tom amuses him for a while, and he cheers up considerably when he scares off a negro and stumbles in on a pair of newly weds. Then there's his private can-can from a chorus girl, performing a workout in her undies. Unfortunately, she's psychic and shoo-es him off. Meanwhile, Johnny Norton is now deeply suspicious of Ankaret's involvement in the murder and suicide, so fortunately, Hillary must quit his prying on the lives of poor people and the lower middle classes for a while and do his best to save his wife's neck ...
Franklin Marsh again:
Being on a Wheatley kick, I've caught up with your spoilers Dem. This will be read at sometime or other. Molly Fountain of To The Devil - A Daughter is a thriller writer and worked in a similar department to DW during WWII. I love in-jokes and references. Are you in 'a slough of despondency' ploughing through this?
Yeah I am as it happens - it seems never-ending. Maybe I should go out and snoop on some "intimate conversations" to cheer myself up ...
It's been very busy, what with a suicide, an arson, the revelation that Giff's son is a long haired "Communist" and Johnny Norton facing the chop over leaking state secrets. We've also got a foreign spy listening at the keyhole as Sir Charles and the PM discuss the nuclear situation. Also Daisy the psychic chorus girl is convinced that Sir Hillary isn't dead, so Johnny's made an abortive attempt at exhuming him under cover of darkness.
DW only has sixty or so pages to wrap this up, so maybe he'll lighten up on the sermonising at last?
Our dearly missed friend Bob 'The Duke' Rothwell this time:
This is what DW told a correspondent in 1957 what he thought of it:
" 'The Ka of Gifford Hillary' was rather an exception as frankly I wanted to get off my chest my views about the mess we have been making over our defence during this new atom age, and it seemed to me to lend itself to the type of story that I was writing. Probably many people like yourself found that part of the book boring, but others seem to have appreciated it a great deal and it is interesting now, nearly two years after I wrote it, to see from last week's white paper that the government is to do virtually what I put in my book. My complaint is that we didn't do it two years ago, as it took no great brain to see the way things were going and they could by now have saved us many millions of pounds. Anyhow, I thought the chapters about Gifford and the grave were probably as good as any thrilling stuff that I have ever done."
I certainly wouldn't disagree with his high opinion of the chapters relating to the grave. The last quarter of the book is certainly the most suspenseful, IMO. Ka and body are reunited but Giff, drifting in and out of consciousness, finds himself too enfeebled to fight his way out - and then things get even worse. This is a wonderful slab of horror fiction (in a book that is already an unlikely mix of spy and espionage, love and romance, the supernatural, crime, Cold War ....)
I wasn't too taken with the denouement, which seemed rushed and unlikely given the evidence the prosecution had amassed against the heroes.
What was Ka an "exception" to, Duke?
Bob 'The Duke' Rothwell enlightens demonik again:
Not too sure. He couldn't possibly think that he didn't normally use his novels to get across his point of view on topical subjects??
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.