Evil genius Dr Fu-Manchu sets in motion his plans for the conquest of China and the downfall of Western civilisation. But he must first deal with doggedly-determined hero of the Empire, Commissioner Nayland Smith and his pal Dr Petrie, who pursue him through the opium dens of Limehouse and several large country houses.
Penned by English novelist Sax Rohmer (real name Arthur Ward), this is the first of the Fu-Manchu books and introduces typically Sherlockian-type investigator Nayland Smith and his sidekick Dr Petrie. The resemblance to Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations gives the impression that Rohmer simply copied the latter’s ideas but without the ingenuity and detection methods attributed to ACD’s hero. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong the joint abilities of Smith and Petrie, and there’s a cleverness to Fu-Manchu’s murderous devices that is completely different to anything in the Sherlock Holmes canon, but Smith does tend to jump to conclusions rather than figuring out how crimes were committed through good old-fashioned detective cleverness.
The narrative (told by Dr Petrie) gets a little bogged-down in detail at times and I felt the book could do with some thoughtful editing. There’s also many unconcealed references to the threat of China somehow taking over the world, which may reflect something of the anti-Chinese atmosphere that was around at the time of writing (1912). On top of that, there’s a fair bit of racial stereotyping that some readers may find upsetting, but if you’re the sort of person to be offended by books like this, you’re probably not going to read it anyway.
This is very much a novel of its time and to be fair, it was extraordinarily popular with British readers. However, as we all know, ‘popular’ doesn’t necessarily equate to admirable. Tongue in cheek highly recommended.
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