The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

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9-3-2010 2-42-18 PM.jpgSax Rohmer (1883-1959) may not be considered politically correct on account of his, er, unique, take on Asians and other non-caucasian peoples, but he sure could write nail-biting, exciting thrillers with gusto!  Take his second Fu Manchu entry, The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (UK title: The Devil Doctor) published in 1916 after having been serialized in Collier's Weekly in 1914-15.  This book's pace starts off running and never lets up!

Return is set two years after the events of the first novel in the series (The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu; 1913), where the title character, working as an agent for a radical group of  "reformers" in China, ran a terrorist organization in England to get rid of anybody stopping their plans to conquer the world and was seemingly killed by that installment's end.  The good doctor's various plans were foiled by Scotland Yard's Nayland Smith and his pal/Dr. Watson stand-in (and the narrator of both novels) Dr. Petrie.

In Return, right from the get-go, the two immediately find themselves in the middle of Fu Manchu's latest plan to track down a traitor to the cause, as well as indulging in some personal revenge against our heroes. As Fu Manchu sets up operations again in London's "Limehouse" district, Smith and Petrie battle hidden snakes, bizarre death traps, sinister torture devices (like "the wire jacket") and even cats with poison claws!  Meanwhile, as in the previous installment, Petrie still finds time (much to Smith's irritation) to moon over Fu Manchu's beautiful servant Karamaneh, who apparently doesn't remember their mutual experiences in the previous book.   

All these adventures are depicted by Rohmer in a fast, frantic pace that never lets up!  Smith and Petrie, probably owing to the original serial format of the story, race from one set-piece to the next in an episodic but far from dull progression straight into the exciting climax when they come face-to-face (once and for all? Hardly) with the doctor.  (I should note that Fu Manchu, despite casting his shadow over the events in the book, only appears sporadically, which adds to his coolness as a criminal mastermind.)

Yes, Rohmer's attitude towards Asians is less-than-informed, what with the enthic slurs tossed out by the heroes throughout the novel (there's also a whiff of Anti-Semitism as well). But besides his exciting style of writing and masterful grasp of plotting, Rohmer sort of  redeems himself by adding shades to the character of Fu Manchu.  Sure, he may be a fiend that enjoys torturing innocent people, but Fu Manchu is a man who stands by his word and expects other to do the same. It's a minor qualifier, but one that may help offset the book's otherwise blatant racism. (In his later works, Rohmer eventually managed to get over his distrust of Asians, even making one a hero in one of the last Fu Manchu novels.)  

Sax Rohmer's books, despite their lack of political correctness, still hold up today.  Reading these works again,one can see how later writers from Ian Fleming to even Stieg Larsson  were influenced  by Rohmer's style.  See what I mean by reserving online Fu Manchu: Four Classic Novels , which includes The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu.  An exciting reading experience awaits you! 

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This page contains a single entry by Ed published on September 3, 2010 11:34 AM. Now On Twitter was the previous entry in this blog.

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