When Sax Rohmer began writing his Fu-Manchu stories in the early years of the twentieth century, his diabolical Asian genius was, at the same time, one of fiction's first truly exciting world domination obsessed supervillains and, also, one of pop culture's most powerful stereotypes, the epitome of the ‘Yellow Peril’, created many decades before political correctness went nuts. Fu was a character who inspired countless Saturday morning picture-show bad guys, Flash Gordon's nemesis Ming the Merciless, Ian Fleming's 'Dr No', and one of the scariest and best loved of Dr Who’s enemies, Li H’sen Chang (from The Talons of Weng Chiang) But the Fu-Manchu most people know is courtesy of the big screen, when he was played by Christopher Lee in a series of pretty forgettable movies. For the record, the best Fu-Manchu film is easily the Boris Karloff starrer The Mask of Fu-Manchu (1932) but not even the great Karloff’s interpretation can compare to the charismatically evil mastermind depicted in Sax Rohmer’s novels.
The Wrath of Fu-Manchu is the final book in the long-running series and, untypically, is a collection of short stories. The insidious Doctor only appears in four of the episodes and the title story, about Fu-Manchu’s plot to attack the gold reserves in Fort Knox, is by far the best of the bunch (originally published in 1952, it predated a similar plot in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger by seven years.)
But the real revelation are the non Fu-Manchu entries, a superb genre-defying smorgasbord, which includes stolen jewels, a horrific family curse, a castle haunted by the Devil and a couple of terrific stories loosely centred around Egyptology, which are fantastic flights of the imagination. Yes, the melodrama is turned up as high as it will go, with Rohmer’s seemingly endless parade of square jawed heroes and exotic femme fatales, mysterious deaths and dastardly double crosses, but this is a serious shot across the bows for anyone who ever dismissed Sax Rohmer as nothing more than a pulp author. Rohmer was actually a very fine writer indeed, with a masterful command of pacing, tension and atmosphere, a knack for creating larger-than-life but still strangely believable characters, and casually introducing plot twists that are usually quite superb (our favourite is the ending of The Mystery of the Fabulous Lamp, a nicely understated little tale, although Nightmare House is a story that ranks with the best of Lovecraft or Poe.) Absolutely wonderful.
THE WRATH OF FU MANCHU / AUTHOR: SAX ROHMER / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW