Come Into My Parlour – Novel Review
Come Into My Parlour, written by Dennis Wheatley and published in 1949, was the sixth of Dennis Wheatley’s novels featuring secret agent Gregory Sallust—a series that critics sometimes claim influenced Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
In Come Into My Parlour, the Gestapo makes a plan to eliminate Sallust which has parallels with SMERSH’s plan to eliminate James Bond in From Russia With Love. This made the novel a curiosity for me, so I decided to see just how close the two novel are.
Come Into My Parlour: Title
The title uses a figurative title, being a reference to the classic poem The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt. The title plays on the fact that the antagonists are trying to trap the hero by luring him into Germany. “Come Into My Parlour” is actually a misquote, if a very common one, as the actual line is:
‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said a spider to a fly.
(For more on titles, see How to Choose a Title For Your Novel)
Come Into My Parlour: Logline
When the German Secret Service lures his girlfriend to Germany, a British spy makes a desperate bid to rescue her, despite knowing he’s walking into a trap aimed at eliminating him.
(For more on loglines, see The Killogator Logline Formula)
Come Into My Parlour: Plot Summary
Warning: My reviews include spoilers. Major spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To view them, just select/highlight them.
It’s 1941 and Nazi Germany has just invaded the Soviet Union. The heads of the German secret services meet under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. On the agenda is the need to eliminate Britain’s best agent, Gregory Sallust, who has damaged German secret operations several times.
Himmler orders Gruppenführer Grauber to instigate a trap for Sallust that will cause his death. Grauber has a personal score to settle with Sallust, so is happy to take the mission on. He plans to trap Sallust via his mistress, Countess Erika Von Osterberg.
In Britain, Sallust’s mentor, Sir Pellinore Gwain Cust, asks Sallust to travel to the Soviet Union. The British government needs to know if the Soviets can survive the German onslaught. If Sallust reports positively, Britain will provide the Soviets with war materiel.
Shortly after Sallust leaves, Erika gets a letter from her estranged German husband in Switzerland. He has escaped from Germany after being asked to do scientific work he thought immoral. Now he needs to leave for South America before the Gestapo catch up with him. He offers to divorce her, in return for the money he needs to go into exile. Erika wants to agree, as divorcing her husband will enable her to marry her true love, Sallust. However, to gain the divorce, she must live in Switzerland for up to a year.
She asks Sir Pellinore for his advice. He says her husband can have all the money he wants, and more, if he tells Britain about the weapon he was working on. She agrees to persuade her husband, in return for Sir Pellinore helping her get to Switzerland. They discuss whether her husband’s letter might be a Gestapo trap. Though they think it probably isn’t, Sir Pellinore sends one of his other agents with her.
Erika meets with her husband and his assistant and tries to persuade them to deliver the information on the secret weapon. The assistant is, in fact, one of Grauber’s underlings. He persuades Erika they need to go to Germany to retrieve her husband’s papers about the secret weapon. Once there, he arrests Erika. She tries to escape, but Grauber recaptures her and threatens her with torture to discover Sallust’s whereabouts. Erika tells him Sallust is in the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Sallust travels to Leningrad on his mission to discover the Soviet’s powers of resistance. He meets a Soviet field marshal and tricks him into revealing that the Soviet Union is far from finished. Next morning he’s arrested as a spy and is being transferred to the Siberian gulag when he’s rescued… by Grauber.
Grauber tries to ship Sallust back to Germany in a U-Boat, but the Soviets sink the submarine and Sallust escapes. He makes his way back to London via Moscow and the Middle East.
In London, Sallust learns Erika has disappeared. He also receives a letter from her husband. The letter tells him the Gestapo have captured her and asks to meet in Switzerland so they can rescue her. Deeply suspicious, Sallust meets with the husband and his assistant. He quickly rumbles the plot, learns where Grauber is holding Erika, kills the assistant and detains her husband. With the Swiss end of the plot neutralised, he enters Germany, determined to rescue his lover…
In Germany, [blackout]Sallust finds Erika, and is about to rescue her when Grauber arrives, complicating matters. Despite this, Sallust kills several guards, extracts Erika and sets fire to her prison to slow down any pursuit. He drives towards the Swiss border but, on the way, the police detain the pair, having spotted Sallust’s stolen car. Sallust talks his way out by impersonating a Gestapo officer, but the delay enables Grauber to catch up and prevent the pair escaping to Switzerland.[/blackout]
It looks like [blackout]they’re both doomed. Sallust persuades Grauber to exchange them for Erika’s husband, so his knowledge of secret weapons doesn’t fall into Allied hands. Grauber attempts to foil the exchange of prisoners at the last second, by swapping Erika for her husband but then refusing to let Sallust go, but Sallust once more bluffs him and regains his freedom.[/blackout]
Behind him, [blackout]Sallust hears Grauber executing Erika’s husband. With her husband dead, Erika and Sallust are free to get married.[/blackout]
(For more on summarising stories, see How to Write a Novel Synopsis)
Come Into My Parlour: Analysis
Come Into My Parlour has a ‘mission’ plot (see Spy Novel Plots) slightly complicated in that Sallust has two missions during the story, first his official mission to investigate the Soviet Union and later his attempt to rescue Erika.
The ‘Mission’ Plot
- Is given a mission to carry out by their Mentor.
- Will be opposed by the Antagonist as they try to complete the mission.
- Makes a plan to complete the Mission.
- Trains and gathers resources for the Mission.
- Involves one or more Allies in their Mission (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
- Attempts to carry out the Mission, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
- Is betrayed by an Ally or the Mentor (optionally).
- Narrowly avoids capture by the Antagonist (or is captured and escapes).
- Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and completes (or fails to complete) the Mission.
From Russia With Love versus Come Into My Parlour
First, let’s be clear: From Russia With Love is a far, far superior novel to Come Into My Parlour. Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way, is there really as much similarity between them as some critics claim? Let’s have a look.
Similarities with From Russia With Love
Come Into My Parlour has these similarities with From Russia With Love:
- The Antagonist’s Organisation decides to eliminate the Protagonist.
- The Antagonist manoeuvres the Protagonist into a trap using a woman.
- The enemy trails a MacGuffin to help lure the Protagonist into the trap.
- Bond and Sallust have similar characterisation.
Damsels in Distress
Despite the superficial similarity of the Antagonist luring the Protagonist into a trap using a woman, the parallel ends there.
Come Into My Parlour has an adventure-novel-cliché ‘damsel in distress’ plot. For comparison, in the Bulldog Drummond novels, his wife, Phyllis, is forever being captured by the antagonists and having to be rescued by him. Similarly, Erika, after the section of the novel from her point of view in which she has some agency, does nothing except wait for Sallust to rescue her.
In contrast, Tatiana in From Russia With Love is one of the Antagonists, although she’s being manipulated, and doesn’t realise what the plot really is. Of course, the ‘enemy agent who falls for the Protagonist’ is nearly as much of a cliché as the ‘damsel in distress’ but, crucially, it’s a different cliché.
In Come into my Parlour, the MacGuffin is The Top-Secret Plans (information on German secret weapons). In From Russia With Love, it’s An Awesome Superweapon (the Lektor code machine). Neither MacGuffin plays much role in the story, other than being a lure for the Protagonist, and this is an undoubted similarity.
The two MacGuffins serve different purposes, though.
In From Russia With Love, M and Bond are both deeply suspicious of Tatiana’s story and need the motivation of the MacGuffin in order to head into the trap.
In Come Into My Parlour, the MacGuffin seems extraneous—of course Sallust is going to rescue his girlfriend. Eventually, the MacGuffin turns out to be an authorial contrivance to help Sallust when he uses the Top-Secret Plans to bargain for his life.
(See The MacGuffin: What it is and How to Use It for an explanation of MacGuffins).
How Bond and Sallust are Similar
There is much crossover between Sallust and Bond. They are both patriotic, ruthlessly amoral, somewhat cynical, have dark hair and a scar, and are happy to take advantage of women, for example.
But I’d argue that the crossover is between Bond and many previous espionage protagonists, the so-called ‘clubland heroes’, who both authors would have read when younger. Bond and Sallust are partly a continuation and partly a reaction against those characters.
Where both Protagonists differ from the clubland heroes is that they have elements of the anti-hero. Indeed, Sallust started out as an anti-hero in a dystopian novel, before becoming much more of a standard espionage protagonist.
Why From Russia With Love is Better
One reason From Russia With Love is a better novel is its more unusual structure, with the first half of the novel told from the point of view of the Antagonists. There’s one chapter in Come Into My Parlour from the point of view of the Antagonists that sets up the plot, but it’s quite perfunctory.
There’s also a long section in Come Into My Parlour involving Sallust gallivanting about Russia. It’s entirely irrelevant to the main plot and seems like padding. It’s nothing like the tight plot of From Russia With Love.
Sallust has an arch-enemy—an Antagonist who he thwarts in every novel—Gruppenführer Grauber. Wheatley regularly describes Grauber as intelligent, though the reader sees no evidence of this supposed intelligence. Instead, Grauber has little characterisation other than being an utterly repulsive, bullying, cowardly, weasel, and homosexual to boot.
In contrast, Fleming characterises the Antagonists in From Russia With Love brilliantly—indeed, I argue in my review of From Russia With Love, the first half of the novel is effectively a series of character studies.
Although in some ways Ian Fleming wasn’t that great a prose stylist—he wrote in a straightforward, journalistic style, with minimal literary flourish, particularly in his earlier novels—he’s still a dramatically better writer than Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley’s prose is workmanlike at best, and dire at worst. I’d speculate he wrote fast and edited little. This can give a story a certain amount of drive, but it doesn’t lead to a novel with any literary merit. And Wheatley’s writing is astonishingly dialogue-heavy. Many of the scenes are almost entirely dialogue.
Sallust versus Bond: My Opinion
So, From Russia With Love has a better plot, better characters and it’s better written.
3-0 to Ian Fleming.
Although there’s perhaps some influence from Come Into My Parlour to From Russia With Love, as I’ve shown, it’s weak stuff. They only really share the basic premise of the Antagonists plotting to lure the Protagonist into a trap and eliminate them. Apart from that, the two novels are almost completely different.
As for similarities between Sallust and Bond, I suspect both writers are simply moving with the times, leaving behind the straight-laced, moralistic, ‘clubland heroes’ of earlier spy fiction. In particular, both Protagonists treat women in a way that would have been unacceptable in a clubland hero.
Bond Versus the Nazis?
Dennis Wheatley’s Gregory Sallust novels do have the advantage of being the nearest thing to a ‘James Bond versus Nazis’ novel, except…
Except, ahem, there’s my novel, A Kill in the Morning which, even if I say so myself, is miles better than Come Into My Parlour.
Come Into My Parlour: My Verdict
Read From Russia With Love instead.
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