The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

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The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Definitely a product of its time, this thriller from a century ago has outdated attitudes and characters but is still an action-filled read to get your adrenaline pumping.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN: 9780857686039

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Dr Petrie is surprised, but pleased, to see his old friend Nayland Smith has returned to England. But this is no mere pleasure visit – the former Scotland Yard man is on the trail of Fu Manchu, a Chinese doctor with the brains of any three men of genius. Petrie is immediately plunged into a headlong race against time to stop the mysterious villain from fulfilling his evil plans and leading the East to world domination!

First things first – without having read any of the books or seen the films before, I’ve always been under the impression that Fu Manchu was a bit stereotypical. That’s completely wrong – Fu Manchu is incredibly, staggeringly, massively stereotypical. There are stout Englishmen who value their word above their life, an Oriental villain who must rank as one of the nastiest in literature, and a beautiful slave girl who falls almost immediately in love with the English doctor. There’s also a newspaper article that Petrie reads which suggests the practice of Chinese people buying poisonous scorpions to kill unwanted girl children is fairly common, and a scene in which Smith encourages Petrie to seize the slave girl by the hair, drag her to some cellar, hurl her down, and stand over her with a whip to get information out of her. If this is the kind of thing that will make your blood boil, I’d walk away from the book rather quickly if I were you…

Right, with that out of the way, I take it we’re left with readers who are, like myself, happy to overlook the elements which seem seriously out of date if the story’s enjoyable enough? The good news is, if that’s the attitude you take, there’s a huge amount to like here. While I wouldn’t say Rohmer’s writing style was anything much to write home about – a couple of narrative jumps left me seriously confused and I’m not quite sure that was the intended effect – he has the virtue of producing massively exciting prose, and throwing action scene after action scene into the mix with dizzying effect. The first murder takes place on the fifth page, and if the death rate doesn’t quite stay that high all the way through, an incredibly violent ending more than makes up for it. Indeed, had I been reading this when it was originally published in serial form back in the 1910s, I would have been going crazy waiting for the next installment.

Petrie and Smith, in particular, along with the slave girl Karamaneh, are also genuinely likeable characters. Yes, their attitudes seem ridiculous a century down the line, but I was cheering for them right the way through the book and found the scenes in which they’re in mortal danger (the vast majority of the novel!) to be extremely tense.

The best description of this is probably pulp fiction at its pulpiest. If it sounds like your type of book, you’re really unlikely to be disappointed by this entertaining thriller. Personally, having finished it late last night, I’m well into book two by now and anxiously awaiting the dozen others in the series which Titan are apparently releasing soon.

Oh, one more thing – as I mentioned at the start of the review, I’ve been aware of Fu Manchu for years but never bothered tracking the books down before. I took a chance on this one after the incredibly striking cover caught my eye – a fabulous design, which perfectly reflects Rohmer’s novel! Full marks to the publishers for making it so eye-catching.

For more adventure in a similar period, the obvious choice is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his Sherlock Holmes stories are justifiably classics - but The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, despite being far less well known, are absolute gems. Another great action story published at around the same time is The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan. For a more modern recommendation, Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon is another gloriously crazy romp with similarly high levels of action and, while aimed at teens, will also appeal to adult fans of pulp fiction.

Buy The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer at

Buy The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer at


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