BOOK REVIEW: THE SHADOW OF FU-MANCHU / AUTHOR: SAX ROHMER / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 6TH
Post-WWII America. The threat called Adolf Hitler has been extinguished but the equally dangerous threat posed by Communism and the Cold War still encroaches. In the summit of one of Manhattan’s tallest buildings, a machine is being built that could potentially solve all the world’s energy problems but, if it fell into the wrong hands, could just as easily destroy all of mankind. The scientist who invented the machine is only interested in the good it could do and, until Scotland Yard’s top detective Sir Denis Nayland-Smith arrives on the scene, he has no idea that several opposing foreign powers – including Russia – are keeping a very close eye on his work, with the ultimate intention of stealing the machine for themselves. However, Nayland-Smith has more worrying news: his old adversary, the insidious psychopathic genius Dr. Fu-Manchu, is also in Manhattan and closer to stealing the machine than anybody else. Fu-Manchu must be stopped at any cost, but stopping him may already be too late.
The Shadow of Fu-Manchu, originally published in 1948, was one of the last novels in a series that author Sax Rohmer had begun thirty five years earlier with The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu. The earlier books, and their subsequent film adaptations, had stirred up a lot of controversy for their racism, misogyny and unapologetic stereotyping: the square-jawed British and American heroes were good, anyone who didn’t speak English was questionable, and the yellow-skinned ‘Asiatics’ were almost universally bad. Even considering the times in which those early stories were written, that isn’t a particularly good place to start and – in the hands of a lesser author – the books would have deservedly disappeared into obscurity as soon as they hit the shelves, but Rohmer’s stories succeed because, despite his dubious opinions about gender politics and the ‘Yellow Peril’ (which also should date the books very badly), they are incredibly entertaining and enormously imaginative works of adventure fiction packed with devious plots, beautiful women, thrilling escapes, terrifying torture devices and incredible technologies.
The Shadow of Fu-Manchu is no exception. If anything, because WWII and, especially, the bombing of Pearl Harbour had ironically put his earlier books out of favour during the war years, what Rohmer gives us in this novel is a less histrionic and more three-dimensional title character with an agenda that might surprise us. Regular readers could come to this novel and still find something new to learn about the ‘Devil Doctor’ and new readers could open these pages without any knowledge of its predecessors and still be enthralled.
Titan are reprinting all of Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu novels and it’s great to see them looking so good and reading so well. Highly recommended.
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