Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Eighteen

 (Reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and in Chapter Eighteen we are shocked to discover there are foreigners in London)

Petrie ponders the story he has been told by Karamaneh, slightly discomfited by his feelings for her*.

"It is a fact, singular, but true, that few Londoners know London." Petrie and Smith go to a door two minutes from Leicester Square in disguise. "We both wore dark suits and fez caps with black silk tassels. My complexion had been artificially reduced** to a shade resembling the deep tan of my friend's." They are greeted by "a negro woman—gross, hideously ugly," who leads them to an elderly bearded man Smith converses with in Arabic. In the back room is "a motley company of Turks, Egyptians, Greeks, and others; and I noted two Chinese. Most of them smoked cigarettes, and some were drinking. A girl was performing a sinuous dance upon the square carpet occupying the center of the floor, accompanied by a young negro woman upon a guitar and by several members of the assembly who clapped their hands to the music or hummed a low, monotonous melody." So many foreigners! They must be up to no good. Smith agrees, certain that some of Fu-Manchu's group patronises the place.

"A woman in an elegant, flame-colored opera cloak," comes in and Petrie recognises her as Karamaneh by her perfume. They follow but lose track of her and the man she brought to the place for a meeting. Petrie worries. "To Smith and me, who knew something of the secret influences at work to overthrow the Indian Empire, to place, it might be, the whole of Europe and America beneath an Eastern rule, it seemed that a great yellow hand was stretched out over London. Doctor Fu-Manchu was a menace to the civilized world." How shocking that someone other than the British might take over the Indian Empire!

Smith is also worried. "Into what dark scheme have we had a glimpse? What State secret is to be filched? What faithful servant of the British Raj to be spirited away? Upon whom now has Fu-Manchu set his death seal?" At Piccadilly Circus, in a traffic jam they catch the whiff of perfume again and a whisper, "ANDAMAN—SECOND!"****

They devote "a whole hour" to trying to figure out what it means. There's a phone call; Frank Norris West, an American Inventor who has been offering the War Office the West aero-torpedo, has been attacked. They rush over to find him lying on his back, telephone receiver in hand. He had called to complain about some Chinamen in his rooms then had been drugged. The front door had been locked, and was forced open by the police. His safe, presumably containing the plans, is still locked. There appears no way to get in or out, until Smith notices some bird tracks on the window sill.

They find some chloral hydrate***** and order in an antidote to wake West. He opens the safe, claiming he is the only one who knows the combination, and discovers the plans are, of course, missing.

"In some way the knowledge came to me that the curtain was about to rise on a new and surprising act in the Fu-Manchu drama." Well spotted Petrie. Well spotted.

* "East and West may not intermingle. As a student of world-policies, as a physician, I admitted, could not deny, that truth. Again, if Karamaneh were to be credited, she had come to Fu-Manchu a slave; had fallen into the hands of the raiders; had crossed the desert with the slave-drivers; had known the house of the slave-dealer. Could it be? With the fading of the crescent of Islam I had thought such things to have passed." Just so Petrie, the fading of Islam. Although also, "At the mere thought of a girl so deliciously beautiful in the brutal power of slavers, I found myself grinding my teeth—closing my eyes in a futile attempt to blot out the pictures called up." Quite. Blot them out Petrie.

** I assume when he says his complexion had been reduced he means darkened, but on the face*** of it sounds as though he's been lightened. Maybe Petrie is worrying overmuch about the personal difficulties he might have if Fu-Manchu's assault on the White Race succeeds.

*** Heh

**** All Caps whisper in the original. Probably would have been better emphasised by italics.

***** Petrie identifies it with his tongue, perhaps not the safest way with master poisoner Fu-Manchu involved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Seventeen

(Chapter Seventeen of The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu also published as The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu and our protagonists are following up a tip they've been given.)

Smith and Petrie follow Karamaneh's information to a hulk somewhere in the Thames estuary*. Smith notes "irrelevantly" that Karamaneh simply means slave**. They spot a dim light and arrive at a pier from a promontory so they have to descend into the hulk. Petrie slips, saves himself but loses his revolver.

They discover Fu-Manchu in a room fitted out as a laboratory; a laboratory that matches Petrie's dream-vision from earlier. Uncanny! Smith covers Fu-Manchu, but when he orders Petrie to tie him up a dacoit threatens him with a crescent knife. Fu-Manchu gloats a little.  "You supposed that I was alone? So I was***. But my faithful servant followed you. I thank him. The honors, Mr. Smith, are mine, I think?"

Fu-Manchu makes a rather complex suggestion by which they might all survive the situation, accepting Smith and Petrie's words of honour and they leave, somewhat awkwardly, up the ladder. The dacoit throws down his knife, and Smith has Petrie search him and also Fu-Manchu****. Then they let them go.

Smith immediately sheds his coat, collar and waistcoat, pocketing his valuables, declaring that they shall have to run for their lives. "We live in a peaceful age, wherein it falls to the lot of few men to owe their survival to their fleetness of foot.*****" Smith abandons his revolver ('Keep your word, though it break your neck!'), reflecting that at least it won't be used against them as Fu-Manchu prefers silent methods. They hear the calls of (three) dacoits around them as they run off to the north******. "I had never in my younger days been a notable runner; for Smith I cannot speak. But I am confident that the next half-mile was done in time that would not have disgraced a crack man."

They make it to an empty cottage. Smith breaks the latch coming in, but Petrie manages to bolt the door just in time for a dacoit to stab through it. Another breaks the window. The a grey figure appears from the shadows and shoots two of them (it turns out there were four dacoits in total). Petrie recognises the coat; it is his and being worn by Karamaneh who has saved them (again). Having failed, she goes back to him, and they leave.

* They note that his previous bases, Singapore Charlie's and the Windsor mansion have also been on the Thames; clearly using river traffic to move about.

** I can't find any evidence of this.

*** Fu-Manchu fails to count the marmoset on his shoulder amongst his companions. Losing sympathy for this cruel and murderous manipulator.

**** Something I've noted that Fu-Manchu should really have done when he last had them at his mercy.

***** This is the second time they have had a long fast run to complete. It seems to me that some track training might be in order.

****** Therefore they are on the north bank of the Thames, in Essex.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Sixteen

 (Reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu. This is Chapter Sixteen and Petrie and Smith are for once taking the offensive.)

Petrie and Smith are on the trail of Dr Fu-Manchu. Finally at the halfway point of the novel they have a solid clew - his secret base is on a river somewhere near Windsor. They have drawn a circle on a map, recruited twelve experienced men, and are now methodically searching suitable sites.

After some searching they come to a mansion with extended walled grounds. Besides it is "...a gypsy caravan. An old woman was seated on the steps, her wrinkled face bent, her chin resting in the palm of her hand." The next thing Petries knows, Smith has picked a fight with her. As Petrie joins him a man - who Smith identifies as a dacoit - bursts from the caravan and runs for the river.

He dives in* and vanishes. Petrie watches and watches for him to surface. Eventually he gives up... and someone throws a knife at him. The only person he can see is a white-clad girl on a punt.

He gets back to Smith who still has good hold of the woman; he informs Petrie that the dacoit must have disguised himself as a duck**. When they take off the wig, the old woman is revealed to be Fu-Manchu's slavegirl in disguise, because of course she is. There are a set of odd vocal calls, then the mansion catches fire.

Petrie introduces the next section by addressing the reader directly: "That I moved amid singular happenings, you, who have borne with me thus far, have learned, and that I witnessed many curious scenes; but of the many such scenes in that race-drama wherein Nayland Smith and Dr. Fu-Manchu played the leading parts, I remember none more bizarre than the one at my rooms that afternoon." Interesting!

Smith makes a few comments, but learns little other than that she is no kin of Fu-Manchu. He leaves her with Petrie. Now we get some information; she gives as her name Karamaneh and notes that she has a sister (dead) and a brother (alive and a slave and in the power of Fu-Manchu). She makes a bargain; to tell Petrie where to find Fu-Manchu if then they go and release her brother.

* The Thames in 1912, even upstream above London, would not be pleasant swimming.

** More accurately he was under the water wearing a false duck on his head to watch and breathe. Because he had that to hand, like one does. And came up with it on without alerting Petrie who was watching every ripple. This is not as well thought out as it seems, Rohmer, really.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Fifteen

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu. The previous chapter ended with Smith and Petrie on the last train to Waterloo, in an attempt to save the life of Graham Guthrie who Fu-Manchu has promised will die at half past midnight. Now for Chapter Fifteen.)

The train is late so they catch a cab from Waterloo, hearing Big Ben AND St Pauls chime midnight*. They get out near the Strand outside Sotheby's auction rooms**. They head west to the back of a great hotel*** where they talk their way in without being seen.

They find the hotel detective****, a man in a tweed suit. He had somehow got the impression that someone had entered the hotel who wasn't a guest, someone or something that had no business there. Something had been crawling after a party of two ladies and two gentlemen; something he couldn't describe, but wasn't a dog. This just goes to show that a hotel detective is no substitute for the real thing.

In room 189 they meet Mr. Graham Guthrie, "British resident in North Bhutan"*****, "a big, thick-set man—gray-haired and florid, with widely opened eyes of the true fighting blue, a bristling mustache and prominent shaggy brows." Nice eyes!

Smith attempts to convince him of the danger******. Big Ben strikes Half-Twelve. The Call of Siva wails. There are three taps on the window.

They are very high up, at the top of the hotel, as it is full of Americans. Nothing, it seems, could reach the window. Smith goes to look and is drawn out; the others grab him but he's still pulled, until he looses off a shot with his revolver.******* Then he collapses, a black shape falls past the window and they find he is being strangled by a silken rope.

When they inspect the body they see the mark of Kali on his brow; Guthrie identifies him as a Thug********, Smith uses the term "phansigar—a religious strangler." The murders were done with a running line so the rope remained in the hand of the killer of the roof leaving no clew, a characteristic that Fu-Manchu seems to like, although how exactly he recruits murderers that leave no clews behind them is a question that Smith fails to answer: "I can only reply that Dr. Fu-Manchu has secret knowledge of which, so far, we know absolutely nothing; but, despite all, at last I begin to score."

* I don't think we've been told which hotel or exactly where Guthrie is staying; since they were ambushed going from Embankment up Essex Street I'd assumed in Temple somewhere, but it turns out they're closer to Covent Garden.

** At that time Wellington Street, which begins at the North end of the Waterloo bridge approach. Yep, you can follow it on a map, or even do it yourself if you're ever in London.

*** Probably the Savoy. Rohmer may be being coy to avoid associating the establishment with his lurid crime novel and being sued or, worse still, barred.

**** Oh man, the hotel detective! I'd forgotten that they ever existed.

***** No he's not, he's residing in a hotel in London.

****** Petrie mentions "the sense of impending danger which invariably preceded a visit from Fu-Manchu. Even had I not known that an attempt was to be made that night, I should have realized it, as, strung to high tension, I waited in the darkness. Some invisible herald went ahead of the dreadful Chinaman, proclaiming his coming to every nerve in one's body. It was like a breath of astral incense, announcing the presence of the priests of death." This is, I suggest, an unsubtle method of increasing tension, somewhat out of favour in the modern era which prefers that we show rather than tell. However, if we must merely tell, then I am not opposed to doing so in a florid and mannered way like this.

******* I think this is a genuine continuity error. If Smith had his revolver while they were captured by Fu-Manchu, why did he not use it? Afterwards they have been 1. blindfolded; 2. running for the train; 3. getting a cab to the hotel; 4. in the hotel. There is no time for them to re-arm themselves.

******** As in a member of the cult of Thugee, not the colloquial meaning. Although that too, maybe!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Fourteen

 (I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and despite only being chapter fourteen of thirty the heroes have been captured by Dr Fu-Manchu and there is no hope, although as the novel is supposed to be the recollections of Dr Petrie we might assume that they aren't actually killed or worse)

Petrie is not ashamed to admit that he's afraid; after all they are in a dark cell, at the mercy of the merciless Fu-Manchu ,who has not-so-obliquely threatened to torture them to learn their plans*. Having broken one blade of his pocket knife** on the iron collar, Petrie hears a noise and a trap door opens. Someone comes up, "...a figure from an opium vision***, with her clinging silk draperies and garish jewelry, with her feet encased in little red slippers."

She unlocks them, leaving the broken knife behind to disguise the method of escape, and leads them away after blindfolding them. There's a steamy plant smell, and an animal one, and also "...a subdued stir about me, infinitely suggestive—mysterious." Mysterious indeed. Then there is drumming that Smith recognises as a tom-tom****.

She leads them out onto a punt, then poles them away. Petrie tells her not to go back. She refuses him, and asks that they not uncover their eyes until the clock strikes. She leaves and eventually it strikes the half hour. They find they are at... Windsor Castle!

They run for the train***** and catch the last one to London. "Due at Waterloo at eleven-fifty-one," says Smith. As Fu-Manchu promised that Guthrie would die at half twelve that leaves them very little time to save him.

Smith reveals the events of Rangoon in 1908 that Fu-Manchu referred to; an American who broke his neck jumping out the window, assumed to be suicide, although curiously he had his loaded revolver with him. Later a man named Martin was woken by a scream, sat up in bed in time to observe his French friend Lafitte leap out a window in the same manner. It happened again while Smith was investigating; he heard the cry and then another man, an orchid hunter was dead in the courtyard. "A story got about the native quarter, and was fostered by some mad fakir, that the god Siva was reborn and that the cry was his call for victims; a ghastly story, which led to an outbreak of dacoity and gave the District Superintendent no end of trouble." Yes, quite troublesome.

Some more clews and speculation; each body showed marks of strangling; although Smith did not see it himself, others thought they showed "The five heads of Siva." Other men, both European and Burmese died in the same way elsewhere. There was a theory they might have contracted leprosy and killed themselves but there's no evidence of it. Yet another mysterious method of death that Fu-Manchu has brought to England.

* This is futile as they have no plans.

** Not good Fu-Manchu. Perhaps searching your captives might be an idea? Or stripping them, which they would undoubtedly interpret as being some sadistic foreign practice.

*** Have we established that Petrie is not really an expert on opium? He was certainly effected by fumes in Singapore Charlie's. I suspect that, as a doctor, he knows more about the theory than the practise.

**** Not the satnav, but the drum. Now part of most regular drum kits, this would have been less ubiquitous at the time of the novel.

***** "I sank into a corner of the compartment in a state bordering upon collapse. Neither of us, I think, could have managed another twenty yards. With a lesser stake than a human life at issue, I doubt if we should have attempted that dash to Windsor station." Going to have to work on your stamina if you're going to defeat Fu-Manchu gents.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Thirteen

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Thirteen, and something weird has happened since the end of Chapter Twelve)

Petrie has a nightmare*.

He wakes up, remembering that he and Nayland Smith had been on their way to warn Graham Guthrie that he, like everyone else in England who can find China two times out of three on a globe, is in danger from Fu-Manchu. They had gone up the steps from the Embankment to Essex Street**, seen a big motor-car and then he had been hit on the head. Well, you know, rough part of town, full of lawyers.

He discovers that he is imprisoned by means of a steel collar; next to him is Nayland Smith, similarly restrained. Smith wakes, blames himself, although immediately is taken aback by the two of them having been sandbagged in broad daylight, by two Chinese in European clothes, within hailing distance of the Strand.

Dr. Fu-Manchu enters. "At last they were face to face—the head of the great Yellow Movement, and the man who fought on behalf of the entire white race."

Fu-Manchu has a complaint that seems a little esoteric from a hundred years distance:  "You have linked my name with the futility of the Young China Movement***—the name of Fu-Manchu! Mr. Smith, you are an incompetent meddler—I despise you! Dr. Petrie, you are a fool—I am sorry for you!"

Fu-Manchu has a marmoset as a pet, so he's not all bad, but he also discusses some of his other pets, scorpions, pythons, hamadryads, fungi and bacilli, and even black spiders with diamond eyes, all of them a bit dangerous for the beginner. He makes a prophecy. "To-night, at half-past twelve, Mr. Graham Guthrie dies!" Then he reminisces with Smith about a call made in Rangoon, 1908, "...a low, wailing cry, an uncanny thing of falling cadence..."

Fu-Manchu leaves them in darkness and Smith reveals that the sound was "The Call of Siva****", which means death. For someone. For certain.

* First he finds himself in pain. Then it is eased. He is exhausted then recovers his strength. He gets up, smells some perfume, sees a dim light. He is in a strange room; tapestries and carpet are decorated with golden dragons. There is a dragon-legged table with "instruments unknown to Western science" and other set dressing from a mad scientist's lair. Fu-Manchu is behind the table. There is a musical-girl voice that says "They are killing him! they are killing him! Oh! do you not understand?" Who is saying it? He gets a glimpse:  "...I told myself that she was an houri, and that I, though a Christian, had been consigned by some error to the paradise of Mohammed." Interesting!

** The geography in general and description of house and ground layouts in particular is good, sometimes excellent in the novel. As the relative position of spaces is often important for the plot, this strengthens the novel.

*** To oversimplify, The Young China Movement were for westernisation and reform, and one of the forces behind the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China which took place during the writing of this novel. Indeed, the turmoil and political strife in China at the time forms part of the backdrop, though (so far) it has only been hinted at.

**** Almost certainly a variant spelling of Shiva, the Hindu god.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twelve

(Reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu; in the previous chapter they first thought Sir Lionel Barton was dead, then found that it wasn't him, but his secretary and also his Chinese servant who Smith assumes was working for Fu-Manchu. However they are left puzzled as to exactly how they died, and try to figure it out in this chapter.)

Petrie admits to having more questions than answers for the events of the previous chapter; Smith says it is "...more like a case for the Psychical Research people than for a plain Civil Servant, lately of Mandalay." While puzzling about it on his own someone sneaks into Petrie's rooms and he finds himself "looking into the beautiful dark eyes of Dr. Fu-Manchu's messenger." She reveals that HE* has a duplicate key to the house and suggests to Petrie that he change his locks. Good advice.

Petrie sets down several lines describing her indescribable good looks, then tells her that she is a free agent, he can protect her and to talk of slavery in England is nonsense. She replies:

"Slavery is put down, you imagine, perhaps? You do not believe that to-day—TO-DAY—twenty-five English sovereigns will buy a Galla girl, who is brown, and"—whisper—"two hundred and fifty a Circassian, who is white. No, there is no slavery! So! Then what am I?"

She goes on to prove her point be revealing that under her cloak "she was arrayed in gossamer silk which more than indicated the perfect lines of her slim shape; wore a jeweled girdle and barbaric ornaments; was a figure fit for the walled gardens of Stamboul." She says she had no time to array herself as an English Miss, and instead just went out in her casual lounging wear.

Petrie rubs his eyes.

She says that she will tell all - IF Petrie carries her off, by force. He doesn't and she leaves.

Smith returns and Petrie asks how she could have crossed London in that costume. Smith is not really interested in that question, instead bemoaning that this is the third time they have encountered her and the third time she has gone free. He asserts that she is in love with Petrie and gives him some romantic advice. "You don't know the Oriental mind as I do; but I quite understand the girl's position. She fears the English authorities, but would submit to capture by you! If you would only seize her by the hair, drag her to some cellar, hurl her down and stand over her with a whip, she would tell you everything she knows, and salve her strange Eastern conscience with the reflection that speech was forced from her. I am not joking; it is so, I assure you. And she would adore you for your savagery, deeming you forceful and strong!" Not sure I would take the advice of Nayland Smith, confirmed bachelor, on this topic Petrie. Just my opinion.

They are sadly interrupted before Smith can continue discussing methods of wooing women by the delivery of a package from the docks. Smith explains that he believes Fu-Manchu intercepted the sarcophagus and put someone in it; this explains a rubber stopper they found that had concealed a ventilation hole. Petrie is still puzzled about the green mist, but Smith tells him not to put too much importance on it.

He opens the package and a green mist comes out. Petrie drags him from the room. "It is a poisonous gas! In many respects identical with chlorine, but having unique properties which prove it to be something else—God and Fu-Manchu, alone know what!" They discuss it. "Chlorine gas has a specific gravity of 2.470, two and a half times heavier than air. You can pour it from jar to jar like a liquid—if you are wearing a chemist's mask. In these respects this stuff appears to be similar; the points of difference would not interest you." So it came out of the sarcophagus when Strozza overturned it, then went down the steps and suffocated Kwee. Well okay then.

Smith, as always has to have the final word. "His contempt is justified. I am a child striving to cope with a mental giant. It is by no wit of mine that Dr. Fu-Manchu scores a double failure." Smith is paranoid, but is he paranoid enough?

* Dr Fu-Manchu