The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu–Sax Rohmer.

A few months ago I was trolling the web in search of reading material when I came across a listing for the re-release of Sax Rohmer’s The Mystery of  Dr. Fu Manchu by Titan Books.  After a look at the very pulpy cover art, I said to myself, “okay, I think I might check this out.”  However, already having a free copy (see project Gutenberg’s website for a free download) of The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu, I decided to go the cheap (free) route and see what was there. 

Note to readers–The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the same book, with an odd title change for American audiences–why they did that is beyond me.  However, I was not around in 1913 to question the publisher, so whatever, I can live with that.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the story of Denis Nayland Smith, formerly of Scotland Yard and now an agent of the crown, tasked with bringing to justice and/or thwarting the sinister plans of Fu Manchu, a Chinese agent who has left a trail of crime and death from the shores of Burma to the waters of the Thames.  A master assassin, thief and alchemist, Fu Manchu leads a criminal regime tasked with undermining the Western Powers (specifically the British Empire) to the benefit of his Chinese homeland.

Smith enlists the help of his old friend Dr. Petrie, and the two embark on a series of adventures with the help of Scotland Yard and the irrepressible Inspector Weymouth that invariably lead to their being outwitted by Fu Manchu, the man  Smith continually refers to as one of the greatest criminal minds the world has ever seen.

And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this novel.  I went in looking to Nayland Smith and Watson…err, Petrie, as worthy hunters of the good(bad) doctor, instead finding a couple of heroes that continually bumble around throughout the entire novel, only getting close to the villain with the (inexplicable) help of one of Fu Manchu’s own henchmen (in this case, Karamaneh, a beautiful and alluring Arabic girl held in thrall to Fu Manchu by way of threats to her immediate family).

There are decent moments, ones where Nayland-Smith actually uses deductive reasoning to solve the riddle of how a man can break into a seemingly impenitrable room and safe leaving nary a clue, but too much of the novel relies on him remembering “facts” from earlier cases rather than examination of the evidence around him.  There is also much too much reliance on lovely Karamaneh, whose sole purpose seems to be to lead the two sleuths around by the nose.  Every time Rohmer writes himself into a corner, Karamaneh mysteriously shows up and points the way forward.  She is deus ex machina personified, and (to me) a lazy way of progressing the novel.

The book is not without its merits–Fu Manchu (the original caricature of the “Yellow Peril“) is a delightful addition to the pantheon of super villains.  Using his considerable intellect and preferred method of assasination (various exotic poisons) Fu Manchu is a master manipulator and a delightfully cunning villain.  Too bad he does not have a worthy adversary.

I think the biggest disappointment of the novel is that Fu Manchu does not figure more prominently in the novel.  He and his methods are alluded to time and again, but the reader only meets him personally a number of times, and even then, only briefly.  I will say that his escape from authorities closing in on his lair is brilliant, and gives a greater understanding of the character’s essential evil than anything up to that point.  It’s also what saved the novel for me.

Of course, be forewarned of some obviously racist mindsets while reading this novel.  1913 was a very different time, and, Rohmer’s characters are not in any way politically correct.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu  (C+)

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Amazon teams up with Her Majesty’s Secret Service

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to buy!

Good news for fans of Ian Fleming’s classic James Bond novels.  Yesterday, Amazon confirmed that they’ve entered into a partnership with Ian Fleming Publications to license North American publication of the original 007 novels for the next ten years, both print and ebook.

From the release:

“The agreement for the 14 classic James Bond titles includes the first  James Bond book in the series, Casino Royale (1953)–which will celebrate 60 years of publication in 2013–as well as Live and Let Die (1954); Moonraker (1955); Diamonds Are Forever (1956); From  Russia with Love (1957); Dr. No (1958); Goldfinger (1959); For your Eyes Only (1960); Thunderball (1961); The Spy Who Loved Me (1962); On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); You Only Live Twice (1964); The Man With The Golden Gun (1965) and Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966). Since their first publication the books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide and have been the inspiration behind the world’s longest-running film franchise.”

Great news, especially for Kindle owners!

Of course, the Bond saga didn’t end with Ian Fleming’s death.  Several authors have since taken up the reins and one in particular has had his license renewed.  John Gardner wrote a further 16 Bond novels between 1981 and 1996 and Pegasus books began reissuing them as of October, 2011.

 No news yet (at least as far as I’m aware) of ebook versions.

It’s an Unholy Night!

Sacralicious!

Seth Grahame-Smith first lurched into our homes with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 2009.

In 2010, he took a swing at presidential shenanigans with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

It’s now 2012, and he’s leading us on an exodus to a land that’s much less Holy than we were led to believe…