Kindling (I): The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu

My mother, trying to make up for a few bum birthdays in recent years (her words, not mine), bought me a Kindle last July.  Since, it’s rarely left my side.  I’ve been a reader since birth it seems, and having tons of books at a button push is wonderful.  Especially since the Kindle screen is so much easier to read than the Devil Box’s monitor.

Equally wonderful is the fact I now have access to a huge library of out of copyright books.  Stuff I’ve heard of and never been able to lay hands on.   Like The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson.

The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu
Image via Wikipedia (Same book, different title) Oh, and they got the eyes wrong here. They're supposed to be green...

And, of course, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

Which is what I’m reading now.

For those not in the know, Fu Manchu was one of the many evil Chinese characters  inspired by the “Yellow Peril“, a growing fear of those in the Western Hemisphere of those in the Eastern Hemisphere take over during the early 1900s (and, sadly, well beyond).  Created by Sax Rohmer, the character is a criminal mastermind out to take over the “white” world.  Which, judging by the protagonists, should have taken about one quick weekend.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu itself is a series of short stories fashioned into a novel, one where the seams show quite clearly.  Fu Machu acts in an insidious manner, our protagonists struggle to figure out what’s going on, then fail to stop the evil master mind (or only slightly stop him).  Rinse and repeat.  I haven’t finished the novel quite yet, but I assume by the end Fu Manchu gets stopped and Whitey can breathe a little easier.

Until the sequel, that is.

As I’ve noted in the previous paragraphs, the protagonists Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie, are perhaps luckier than they deserve, though Rohmer is a careful enough writer not to let it slip too much into deus ex machina territory. And Rohmer is by no means a bad writer.

Just a product of his times.

Which were sadly very racist.

While Rohmer will later state that “not the whole Chinese population of Limehouse was criminal” (see here for the full quote), I don’t think the reader meets a single Chinese person in the story that isn’t tied in with Fu Manchu.  It’s sort of like Live and Let Die in that regard, where it seemed like every single black character was in league with the villain.  The only difference is that you don’t get the joys of watching great actors like Yaphet Kotto.  Or, I suppose, Roger Moore.

I will finish The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, but I rather doubt I’ll continue further down the line.  My curiosity about the series has been satisfied.  I might see which of the series is considered the best then see about reading that, but beyond that I’ve too many other things to read.

Choice Quotes

Bear in mind these aren’t necessarily prime examples of the writer’s work.  Just ones I found interesting.  Or amusing.  Or both.


[Character describing a multiple murder scene] “It was dark inside, but enough light came from the study—it’s really a drawing-room, by the way—as [the man who discovered the first body] turned all the lamps on, to give him another glimpse of this green, crawling mist. There are three steps to go down. On the steps lay a dead Chinaman.”

“A dead Chinaman!”

“A dead CHINAMAN.”


You know, I believe that a man of Chinese descent might well have expired in that locality.  (Really, Rohmer?  Only two times?  You sure that’s enough?)


[Nayland Smith on another character’s survival] It seems incredible that he can have survived for three days without food. Yet I have known a fakir to go for a week.”


I’m not impressed.  I went four or five days without eating, and I wasn’t even trying.  (I’m sure Smith/Rohmer means three days without water.)


“Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith?” said the captain interrogatively,


And with a question mark the captain does this with.  Does the blighter know who he’s messing with?  (Said?  Not asked?)

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3 Replies to “Kindling (I): The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu”

  1. Man… I need to do a better job of keeping up with your blog.

    This reminds me of something Richard Dawkins wrote about a character named Bulldog Drummond, who was a rather uncouth precursor to James Bond from around the same time Fu Manchu was written. The blatant racism of the time makes one wince, doesn’t it?

    Also – the line “‘Mr. Commissioner Nayland Smith?’ said the captain interrogatively,” hurts my brain.

    1. Wince is right. Dracula had its moments, too – you expect it from the time period – but man.

      The tragedy is that there’s a decent story there. It really pulled me through. (those gaffs not with standing, of course. And the captain’s line hurts me too.)

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