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Book Review: The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

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The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer is a novel which first introduced the infamous villain. Its greatest claim to fame is introducing this arch enemy, the model for many others to come. First published in 1913, The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu is an easy, yet superficial read.

Dr. John Petrie, a physician and our narrator, meets his friend Denis Nayland Smith, who served as British police commissioner in Asia. Smith seems to know all things Asia and the innate ability to get all the support he needs from British government officials. Petrie is, of course, knowledgeable in medicine, forensics, chemistry and–for good measure–an ace with a pistol.

The pair investigates murders, the opium trade, encounter death traps, and more, all with the common denominator of the Shakespearean-looking but devilish Fu Manchu.

This is not actually a novel, but a collection of short stories, and hence lacks depth and character development (which I can only assume is the fault of the format). Each story contains a few short chapters about the “Yellow Peril.” There is constant action, constant peril and, again due to the format, constant narrow escapes by Fu-Manchu at seemingly the last second.

Dr. Fu-Manchu is the embodiment of evil, a master of alchemy (for poison gas), a brilliant physician, leader of assassins and vicious animals, a specialist of torture and of arts of darkness. Add those qualities to a name which practically rolls off the tongue and you can understand why his name became synonymous with villains.

The plot revolves around the “Yellow Peril” (Asiatic threat) and Fu-Manchu’s diabolical plan to restore China to its former glory and replace the British Empire with a Chinese one. Of course the British see this as a threat to the white race as a whole.

Why? Good question!

Fu-Manchu is a contradiction who prides himself on being a patriot as well as the head of a crime syndicate (much like Lucky Luciano, who helped the U.S. during WWII), he heals those he wounded as long as they don’t interfere with his nefarious plan to take over the world, and prefers not to murder if he can help it. Yet he laughs with pleasure at the sight of British police dying in one of his traps.

The dialog in The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu is somewhat stiff, and the writing is wooden at times. A word of warning to the easily incensed: this novel’s sentiments about race and morality are… well, over 100 years old–and we shall leave it at that. Keeping in mind that it is unfair judge others by today’s standards, Rhomer believed that the British Empire was a good thing (at the time almost half the world was under a British flag), and saw the emerging China as a real, credible, and existential threat to the prosperity he, his family and friends, enjoyed.

The most interesting part of the book was to read how Rohmer’s Western world saw the Yellow Peril and East Asia. That part of the world was, and still is, hard to understand and only recently has been penetrated by outsiders. It is unclear just how much understanding the author had of that region, customs, and cultures. In some parts of the book it seems as Rohmer is appreciative of the culture and its contributions, and in another part it seems as if he disgusted with the idea of its existence.

  • 194 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1466326174

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.


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