Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Read Books: The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu

I've been reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu also published as The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu and I've written up each chapter as I came to it. Now though it's time for considering the novel as a whole.

With over 100 years of covers I was able to get a different image for each chapter
What Can Be Done With Fu-Manchu?

A chapter-by-chapter daily reading is, as it turns out, a bad way to read the novel. Published in sections originally, although they build on each other to add up to something more, you can and should read each individual section which detail one of (mostly) Petrie and Smith's attempts to stop Fu-Manchu from killing someone, or (towards the end) a raid on one of his bases and the fallout. The chapter end cliffhangers draw you in, maintaining the pace and disguising the fact that they don't actually get much done.

The style is almost always overwrought by modern standards. Every appearance or event caused by Dr Fu-Manchu is THE MOST TERRIFYING AND OVERWHELMING EVER, which makes it feel as though Petrie is a teen girl writing a diary in a poor quality horror movie. In fact I like that so much I'm keeping that idea.

Fu-Manchu's technology is mostly biological, and two of his plots revolve around stealing plans for an "aero-torpedo*" and faking the death and kidnapping an engineer. This is of course one of the oppositions the novel sets forth; mechanical vs medical, forthright vs cunning, honourable vs cruel, western vs oriental. As might be expected, the methods Rohmer explains are slightly implausible, although perhaps not totally out of the question, given the state of knowledge at the time it was written. Era-appropriate advanced technology.

Which leads me to anachronistically place it in a genre that it exemplifies; an obsession with accurate locations, technologies, and techniques at the expense of character; a gloss of political and international realities with good terminologies but fanciful detail; a somewhat jingoistic view of country vs country, so that Fu-Manchu operating in England is horrific, but Smith acting as commissioner in Burma is just, you know, the British Empire** doing it's business. Transplant it into the Cold War, replacing the Evil Empire with the Yellow Peril, and it would be immediately obvious that the book is a techno-thriller

Things That Haven't Aged Well

Is it racist? Yes, yes it is. Fu-Manchu is cruel because he is a member of a cruel race and he is the cruelest of them and his cruelty proves how cruel the Chinese are. I'm not going to go too much into this as you know, 1912, people got judged on their nationality and ancestry all the time. You're part of you race/nation/gender/class first and any individual details come in later. There's little characterisation of either the policemen led by Smith or the dacoits who serve Fu-Manchu. The majority of Fu-Manchu's victims are mature men, often single, slightly eccentric and mostly of interest for either travelling to Asia or inventing something. Prominent professionals and upper-class men, the backbone of the Empire. Of course Fu-Manchu might have been murdering lower class enemies - sailors, clerks, soldiers who had served in China - by the boat load and Smith would never know because they never came to his attention or were recorded in the papers.

What is interesting is how complex Fu-Manchu becomes by the end. He doesn't regret the crimes he committed out of "conviction" but he does those of "necessity", self-defence etc. He respects Smith and Petrie and undoes one of his cruelest injuries. At the same time he uses the of curing Weymouth to cover his escape. He's cunning like that, like all Chinese, and he's the most cunning etc.

Talking of complex there's Karamaneh, the only female character who really does anything. She is a slave who rebels against Fu-Manchu - but only to look for a new master in Petrie. This, according to Smith is the way of women in the Orient, who desire to be controlled. Yet by the end she walks away from both Fu-Manchu and Petrie*** with her brother.

Perhaps notably Petrie and Smith would have not only got nowhere without the aid of Karamaneh, they would almost certainly have been killed by Fu-Manchu before they became interesting enough for him to decide to capture them. Yes, I'm calling it here. Dr Fu-Manchu's greatest enemy is not Nayland Smith as most people believe; it is Karamaneh, his own slave girl. As such we might rightly say that he has sown the seeds of his own destruction.

To Sum Up

We can read this as a Technothriller-Invasion-Spy novel straightforwardly, accepting the frame that Fu-Manchu has reached out halfway around the world as the fore-funner of the Yellow Peril**** to assault the innocent people of England. Yet one does not have to be very revisionary to note that many of Dr Fu-Manchu's targets are Europeans deeply embedded in Asian countries. Smith was part of the colonial government in Burma; how shocking that China might have ambitions in that part of the world while Britain's rule is obviously the natural order of things. Both Smith and Fu-Manchu use deception and disguise, both use violence in pursuit of their (national) goals. If we see Nayland Smith and Dr Fu-Manchu as dark mirrors of each other then it becomes clear why Smith does not think Fu-Manchu is a homicidal maniac. And also why, despite his ruthlessness, he has scruples and tries to put right a wrong or two he has done along the way. Both agents of globe-spanning Imperial powers.

Now that's an interesting concept for a series.

Read This: For a fast paced and entertaining hundred year old thriller with one of the all time great villains.
Don't Read This: If hundred year old over wrought prose aggravates you, or you aren't interested in people falling into death traps. Also if you aren't on board for racism, sexism, classism, and possibly some other bigotry of sorts.
Will The World hear From You Again?: Dr Fu-Manchu returns in, um, The Return of Dr Fu-Manchu. Which I will read eventually.

* This may in fact have been an aeroplane.

** Fu-Manchu comes to Europe and is a SPY and a TERRORIST. Smith goes to Asia and is an agent of His Majesties Government.

*** Who promptly stalks her. Reading romantic cues across cultural boundaries is difficult, and the method used in (fictional) early 20th Century England is to stoically say nothing for several chapters then express you feelings in flowery prose for about a page and a half, so maybe Petrie needs to be a bit more straightforward. Anyway, enough of this; let's just say that Rohmer seems determined to keep the romantic tension taut.

**** "People of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions," a somewhat mixed allegorical lithograph used by Kaiser Wilhelm II to promote his colonial response to what he called the Yellow Peril.
From the left we have (possibly) Athena for Greece but it's not clear; Britannia, Italia, Mother Russia, Germania who has her arm around Austria, Marianne representing France, St Michael with a flaming sword and in the distance the threatening figure of the Buddha.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Thirty

(I have been reading the book published in the US as The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and in the UK and Commonwealth as The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu and have come to the final chapter. If you are one of the approximately two people who have followed the entire series, or even if you aren't, and have a suggestion for anything else I should read etc. let me know. There will be another entry tomorrow in which I sum up.)

Petrie jumps ahead and tells us what we already guessed and didn't really need to know; Inspector Weymouth, turned mad by Dr Fu-Manchu, has been living rough near his old house.  "Literally, he had returned to primitive savagery and some of his food had been that of the lower animals, though he had not scrupled to steal, as we learned when his lair was discovered."*

We return to the night they captured him and travel by car to New Court Inn where Professor Monde has been arrested in his rooms filled with Asian knick-knacks. Smith approaches him. "Almost savagely, he tore away the beard, tore off the snowy wig dashed the smoked glasses upon the floor. A great, high brow was revealed, and green, malignant eyes, which fixed themselves upon him with an expression I never can forget. IT WAS DR. FU-MANCHU!"

Fu-Manchu reveals that the real Professor Monde has been detained in China**. Smith and Petrie interrogate him alone.

Smith asks if he can restore Inspector Weymouth's sanity, admitting that he has nothing to offer***. Fu-Manchu agrees; he injected him from necessity and regrets it.**** He says he will not reveal the antidote, but put him and Weymouth together, alone, and he will cure him. Smith suspects a trick but Fu-Manchu swears not to "The God of Cathay."

"The most awful visitor who ever threatened the peace of England, the end of the visit of Fu-Manchu was characteristic—terrible—inexplicable." Great Petrie, now we know what you think of it. Weymouth emerges from a cottage the police have surrounded, sane, then it explodes in flame. "From the heat of the holocaust a voice proclaimed itself—a voice raised, not in anguish but in TRIUMPH!"*****

Petrie admits that the ending he's writing is bad. Don't be so hard on yourself old man! So after the fire in the cottage dies down there is no sign of any human bones. In Weymouth's pocket is this note:

 "To Mr. Commissioner NAYLAND SMITH and Dr. PETRIE—

"Greeting! I am recalled home by One who may not be denied. In much that I came to do I have failed. Much that I have done I would undo; some little I have undone. Out of fire I came—the smoldering fire of a thing one day to be a consuming flame; in fire I go. Seek not my ashes. I am the lord of the fires! Farewell.


How, then," says Petrie, "shall I conclude this very unsatisfactory account? Shall I tell you, finally, of my parting with lovely, dark-eyed Karamaneh, on board the liner which was to bear her to Egypt?"

Apparently not as he actually finishes with this call to adventure from Nayland Smith:

"I sail for Burma in a fortnight, Petrie. I have leave to break my journey at the Ditch******. How would a run up the Nile fit your programme? Bit early for the season, but you might find something to amuse you!"

Roll credits.

* Also "his trick of knocking upon his own door at half-past two each morning (a sort of dawning of sanity mysteriously linked with old custom) will be a familiar class of symptom to all students of alienation." Alienation was the discipline that includes what we would term psychology and psychiatry.

** "In truth and in justice I am compelled to say that Fu-Manchu was absolutely fearless." Fu-Manchu is as self possessed when captured as when he is in control.

*** "I cannot save you from the hangman, nor"—his fists clenched convulsively—"would I if I could; but—"

**** He could be lying but this, Fu-Manchu as ruthless yet with scruples, knocks a hole in the "incredible cruelty" part of his character.

***** I assume he's telling them that the world will hear from him again.

****** The Suez Canal

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Nine

(I have reached the penultimate chapter of The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and our heroes are returning to the home of the missing-presumed-dead Inspector Weymouth where strange things have been going on.)

They return to Maple Cottage at dusk and Nayland Smith is interested in "an extensive estate... not yet cut up by the builder". Sub-urbanisation is coming guys. He talks to the local bobby*, who admits that tramps living there stealing loaves and milk is a problem - for the man who relieves him in the morning.

They arrive at the cottage which is under surveillance by plain clothes detectives, and Petrie makes sure they've drugged Mrs Weymouth so she won't wake. Smith smokes his pipe and we learn he's bad at it**. Petrie uses the time to write up some notes on Fu-Manchu, and comes up with this sentence : "Imagine a person, tall, lean, and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green: invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect…"***

An owl hoots three times, which means something to Smith and then it's two thirty in the morning and they hear the bells of St Paul's, apparently, and there's a knocking on the door. Smith opens it. "It was a wild, unkempt figure, with straggling beard, hideously staring eyes." They begin to laugh. Sounds like me coming home after... oh never mind.

James Weymouth recognises him as his brother John, the Inspector Weymouth who vanished in the Thames fighting Fu-Manchu while the latter was holding a needle that turns people mad. I think we're all pretty clear on what's happened. They grab him, all five of them, and Petrie injects him with something that Smith asked him to bring (presumably a sedative; I don't think they have a cure for Fu-Manchu's serum). Weymouth is subdued.

Smith then questions the Scotland Yard messenger and discovers that "He" is arrested at his chambers. Petrie/Rohmer are a little coy about it here but it's Professor Monde, because there's no one else left in the story to arrest. Smith says "Come, then. Our night's labors are not nearly complete." No, because the final chapter awaits.

* I initially mispelt this as "booby" and very nearly left it in but eventually changed it. Keep it subtle guys. Fu-Manchu wouldn't make jokes about knockers and/or sea-birds.

** "At intervals of some five to ten minutes, his blackened briar (which I never knew him to clean or scrape) would go out. I think Smith used more matches than any other smoker I have ever met, and he invariably carried three boxes in various pockets of his garments."

*** From this it seems he's writing up Chapter Two (or possibly Chapter Eight which paraphrases this sentence). Better hurry up Petrie; there's only this chapter and the next to finish the first draft! He goes on to note that this was "the night upon which I had learned of the existence of the wonderful and evil being born of that secret quickening which stirred in the womb of the yellow races." I, um, don't quite know what to make of that.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Eight

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and these are my notes on chapter twenty eight; as there are thirty chapters in the book we are towards the end of the story, which is more of a series of related stories rather than a single integrated novel anyway)

"OF all that we had hoped for in our pursuit of Fu-Manchu how little had we accomplished," begins Petrie before listing their failures. Interestingly he notes as a success that Nayland Smith managed to keep everything out of the press*.

Petrie also talks about Karamaneh. "Many there are, I doubt not, who will regard the Eastern girl with horror." He quite likes her, although being foreign and oriental he doesn't understand her. So, at her request, they book passage for her and her brother to Egypt, their native land, to leave in three days.

They take a break and go and see some water colours in Bond Street when Aziz "feels" the presence of Fu-Manchu. They look but can't see him.  "Who could mistake that long, gaunt shape, with the high, mummy-like shoulders, and the indescribable gait, which I can only liken to that of an awkward cat?" Despite last being seen falling in the Thames none of them believe that "the lord of strange deaths... was no more."

Smith investigates "a tall, old man, wearing a black Inverness coat and a rather shabby silk hat. He had long white hair and a patriarchal beard, wore smoked glasses and walked slowly, leaning upon a stick."

The commissionaire recognises the man as Professor Jenner Monde, who he knew when he was a sergeant out in China, so obviously he's not Fu-Manchu. Smith ponders for a moment if a man who has spent so much time out in China might be an ally of the doctor, but Petrie points out that the unnatural feeling of disquiet would only be caused by Fu-Manchu himself, and he isn't Fu-Manchu as they now know.

They investigate; the professor has been in London for a week, and he is well known at the British Museum; for the greater part of the year he goes abroad**.

They are interrupted by James Weymouth who is shaken by "something uncanny going on at Maple Cottage.***" There was more knocking in the middle of the night. When he looked Mr Weymouth saw nothing but he did hear "SOMEONE LAUGHING!"

Smith and Petrie decide to go; they are not sure if it would be safe to remove Mrs Weymouth (the widow), but Petrie reckons he can administer "an opiate" to keep her out of the way while they investigate. They all want to know what Smith thinks they will find. "I dare not tell you what I hope, Petrie, nor what I fear."

* "In the absence of such a veto a veritable panic must have seized upon the entire country; for a monster—a thing more than humanly evil—existed in our midst." I mean, true, what good would it do to publicise Fu-Manchu's activities, other than for every natural death to be laid at his door, and uninvolved foreigners to be persecuted (Fu-Manchu and his associates being masters of disguise would probably escape notice)? Yet by putting it out there, it would at the very least aggravate him, a man who wishes his moves to be secret, and perhaps push him into making a mistake. And maybe the great British public would demand something be done and they could invade China or similar.

** Where exactly is he a professor of? They should question that institution. Or is it an honourary title? Perhaps Fu-Manchu has a side business in selling false degrees and honours.

*** Not so shaken as to fail to take advantage of their hospitality. "Weymouth took a cigarette from the box which I proffered and poured out a peg of whisky. His hand was not quite steady."

Friday, January 27, 2017

I Watch TV: Colonel March of Scotland Yard

Boris Karloff wears an eyepatch

He solves impossible crimes

It was based on a book called The Department of Queer Complaints

Colonel March of Scotland Yard (1956)

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Seven

(I'm reading The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu or actually the American edition which was published under the title The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu. Later in the series Fu-Manchu loses the hyphen and becomes Fu Manchu, in line with twentieth century romanisation of Chinese words and names. This hasn't happened yet; as Chapter Twenty Seven opens our heroes have just managed to escape Fu-Manchu and are stranded on the bank of the Thames, or conceivably a tributary but probably not.)

After hanging about for a while a police boat picks them up (and reveals they are on the mud-flats below Greenwich). They are brought up to date; eight men died in Fu-Manchu's fungus-poisoned cellar and "an uncanny howling, and peals of laughter that I'm going to dream about for weeks..." suggest Inspector Weymouth was injected with the stuff that turns you mad.

Smith is unhappy. "Pray God the river has that yellow Satan. I would sacrifice a year of my life to see his rat's body on the end of a grappling-iron!" He doesn't like Fu-Manchu.

They talk to Karamaneh who reveals that Fu-Manchu brought seven dacoits to England with him. Only one (probably) was still unaccounted for. As previously suspected he used the Thames as a highway, having several boats including at least one sea-going vessel, which she is unable to describe but believes has already left for China.

They meet with James Weymouth, the brother of Inspector Weymouth "four and a half miles S.S.E. of St. Paul's" in a "quaint little cottage, with its rustic garden, shadowed by the tall trees which had so lined the village street before motor 'buses were... a spot as peaceful and secluded as any in broad England."* They tell him all they can and Smith expands on his ignorance**.

Then Mr Weymouth tells them a story; Inspector Weymouth's wife, Mary had been thought to be having delusions; "for the last three nights poor John's*** widow has cried out at the same time—half-past two—that someone was knocking on the door." He was often late back from the yard before his disappearance. But then last night Weymouth's wife also heard it.

Petrie has other things on his mind. "Karamaneh laid her hand upon mine, in a quaint, childish fashion peculiarly her own. Her hand was cold, but its touch thrilled me. For Karamaneh was not a child, but a rarely beautiful girl—a pearl of the East such as many a monarch has fought for." Yes yes. If you like her so much why don't you marry her?

* Contrasting this idea of peaceful rural England with the horrors brought out of China by Fu-Manchu of course. Four and a half miles SSE of St Paul's is Forest Hill or Lewisham maybe.

** "Dr. Fu-Manchu was the ultimate expression of Chinese cunning; a phenomenon such as occurs but once in many generations. He was a superman of incredible genius, who, had he willed, could have revolutionized science. There is a superstition in some parts of China according to which, under certain peculiar conditions (one of which is proximity to a deserted burial-ground) an evil spirit of incredible age may enter unto the body of a new-born infant. All my efforts thus far have not availed me to trace the genealogy of the man called Dr. Fu-Manchu. Even Karamaneh cannot help me in this. But I have sometimes thought that he was a member of a certain very old Kiangsu family—and that the peculiar conditions I have mentioned prevailed at his birth!" So he's literally possessed by a demon? Interesting theory Smith.

*** John's brother is named James? Siblings with the same initial? What, is this the 1500s when they only had ten names?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Six

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and at the start of chapter twenty six our heroes have been captured by Fu-Manchu. Again.)

Petrie wakes up bound, gagged, secured to an iron ring and aboard "an electric launch". Unfortunately this is not the result of a stag night gone wrong, and he, Nayland Smith, and Inspector Weymouth are all prisoners of Fu-Manchu. It's very foggy.

The boat is hailed by a familiar voice, Inspector Ryland of the river police and his boat is "within biscuit-throw* of that upon which we lay!" Fu-Manchu races away and Ryland's launch is in pursuit.

Weymouth gets his hands free but before he can do more has to pretend to be tied again as Fu-Manchu explains why he hasn't killed them (yet). "Dr. Petrie you shall be my honored guest at my home in China. You shall assist me to revolutionize chemistry. Mr. Smith, I fear you know more of my plans than I had deemed it possible for you to have learned, and I am anxious to know if you have a confidant. Where your memory fails you, and my files and wire jackets** prove ineffectual, Inspector Weymouth's recollections may prove more accurate."

Fu Manchu has also finally noticed that Petrie has a crush. "You have seemed to display an undue interest in the peach and pearl*** which render my Karamaneh so delightful, In the supple grace of her movements and the sparkle of her eyes." He is going to inject her with something that will turn her into a shrieking hag so she won't distract him, when Weymouth attacks. They grapple, the needle being a point of danger, until they both fall over the side.

"There are moments of which no man can recall his mental impressions, moments so acutely horrible that, mercifully, our memory retains nothing of the emotions they occasioned." Petrie skips a bit and the next thing he knows they have run aground and are being flooded. Fortunately the water wakes Karamaneh and she lets them loose.

* This is a nautical term; if you could throw a piece of hard tack and hit something from the deck then you are sailing TOO CLOSE. In this case, Petrie is happy they are that close and would happily throw biscuits at them if he were free and had a packet to hand.

** Methods of torture. A wire jacket might be used to perform 'the death of a thousand cuts', a practice that had been outlawed in China (in 1905).

*** Oo-er.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Five

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu also known as The Mystery of Fu-Manchu. As Chapter Twenty Five opens our heroes have been captured.)

Petrie wakes, and is being carried along a corridor with strange giant mushrooms in. I know the feeling. He's dumped on the ground and hears Smith's voice as well as the sound of something being hit but he is too dozy to react. I know that feeling as well. Then Fu-Manchu arrives. "Fu-Manchu picked his way through the fungi ranks as daintily as though the distorted, tumid things had been viper-headed."

The noise stops as Fu-Manchu closes a door. Fu-Manchu admits to being impressed by their exploits and so will keep them alive... for now. But maybe not Inspector Weymouth. "You are about to enjoy an unique opportunity of studying fungology. I have already drawn your attention to the anaesthetic properties of the lycoperdon, or common puff-ball." He has a new variety of his own*.

Petrie is unhappy**. Fu-Manchu "the greatest fungologist the world has ever known" has set a trap for the detectives assaulting his house. The toadstools explode when exposed to light the spores causing the men to go mad. Then the white empusa falls from the ceiling, covering them and growing over them.

"It is my fly-trap!" shrieked the Chinaman. "And I am the god of destruction!"***

* "Note the snowy growth upon the roof, Doctor. Do not be deceived by its size. It is a giant variety of my own culture and is of the order empusa. You, in England, are familiar with the death of the common house-fly—which is found attached to the window-pane by a coating of white mold. I have developed the spores of this mold and have produced a giant species. Observe the interesting effect of the strong light upon my orange and blue amanita fungus!"

** "For my own part, I could have shrieked in pure horror. FOR I KNEW WHAT WAS COMING."

*** Petrie also remarks, "I felt assured of something I had long suspected: that that magnificent, perverted brain was the brain of a homicidal maniac—though Smith would never accept the theory." May have to come back to that; why does Smith not think that Fu-Manchu is a homicidal maniac? Is there some subtlety to the way a doctor would use the term a hundred years ago? ("Not a psychopath, a high functioning sociopath.")

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Just A Brief Interlude On Art, Promotion and Me Being Bad At Things

Welcome to Night of the Hats and also to Late Capitalism*.

There are so many things available out there that if I have something to sell, I have to give things away, or pay people to promote it, or engage in various other dark arts of PR that I am bad at, and, to a close approximation, so is everyone else. Meanwhile if someone gives something away there are people who will monetise it, so we occasionally find ourselves in the situation of giving things away to sell things and selling them to give things away.

This is on my mind because I have a book to sell, currently exclusively as an e-book at the Amazon Kindle Store, soon (hopefully), to be in other places and also in paperback. As might be expected statistically my PR is bad. I need to improve, probably by giving several something away.

I'm bringing this up as this morning I received an email from Artsy.net, a website funded by tech-tycoons and dedicated to putting images of artwork on line. Their unsolicited request was in response to my rather stupid joke about Jackson Pollock.

If I'm going to attempt to convince people to promote my book, I suppose I shall have to quid pro quo, and to indicate my openness to this here's some quo (or quid maybe, which way round is this?):

IF you want a fun crime novel about heists and plots set in the Edwardian period, buy my book The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman.

IF you feel like some abstract impressionism, powerful images that exist without telling you what they mean, then Artsy.net can assist. Knock yourself out.

I now return you to your regular programming.

* This may not be Late Capitalism, it might be High Capitalism, or Mid Capitalism, or everything between merchant guilds and satellite tax-haven trade-wars might later be bundled together into Early Capitalism. Come back in a thousand years and check it out.

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Four

(I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and this is Chapter Twenty Four.)

Petrie: "I have been asked many times since the days with which these records deal: Who WAS Dr. Fu-Manchu? Let me confess here that my final answer must be postponed." Foreshadowing!

He considers a few things including the overthrow of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty by 'Young China', who Fu-Manchu had disparaged to his face and 'assuming that the name were not an assumed one, he clearly can have been no anti-Manchu, no Republican.' Well maybe, but just because you're called Scott doesn't make you pro-Scottish Independence. After a brief discussion of Young China* he suggests that in times of turmoil there will often by a third party, and that Fu-Manchu is a leader of such a group**.

He goes on to discuss Fu-Manchu's bases of operations and eventually stops expositing and tells us about their raid on the East End riverside building. Karamaneh insists that Petrie and Smith enter first and get her brother Aziz to safety. They enter, along with Inspector Weymouth of Scotland Yard.

"From the time when Nayland Smith had come from Burma in pursuit of this advance-guard of a cogent Yellow Peril, the face of Dr. Fu-Manchu rarely had been absent from my dreams day or night. The millions might sleep in peace—the millions in whose cause we labored!—but we who knew the reality of the danger knew that a veritable octopus had fastened upon England—a yellow octopus whose head was that of Dr. Fu-Manchu, whose tentacles were dacoity, thuggee, modes of death, secret and swift, which in the darkness plucked men from life and left no clew behind." Petrie really building up the atmosphere there.

They revive Aziz, but Fu-Manchu's laboratory has been stripped of it's contents. Next door they discover him, yet  "the cunning mind was torpid—lost in a brutish world of dreams." He's been smoking opium. Karamaneh begs them not to enter. Weymouth pulls out his handcuffs and goes in.

"As though cast up by a volcano, the silken cushions, the inlaid table with its blue-shaded lamp, the garish walls, the sprawling figure with the ghastly light playing upon its features—quivered, and shot upward!" It's actually a trapdoor and Petrie passes out leaving us with a cliffhanger.

* "The Chinese Republican is of the mandarin class, but of a new generation which veneers its Confucianism with Western polish."

** Petrie enormously under-describes the complexity of the Xinhai Revolution.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Three

 (I'm reading The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu also known as The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Twenty Three. Three days after Henry Stradwick, Lord Southrey died very unsuspiciously Petrie and Smith are going to save him)

"YOUR extraordinary proposal fills me with horror, Mr. Smith!"

"The sleek little man in the dress suit, who looked like a head waiter (but was the trusted legal adviser of the house of Southery) puffed at his cigar indignantly. Nayland Smith, whose restless pacing had led him to the far end of the library, turned, a remote but virile figure, and looked back to where I stood by the open hearth with the solicitor."

Oo-er. So opens this chapter. Eventually Smith convinces Mr Henderson and they go to the tombs of the Stradwicks. Petrie explains: "For, under conditions which, in the event of failure and exposure, must have led to an unpleasant inquiry by the British Medical Association, I was about to attempt an experiment never before essayed by a physician of the white races." So, something medically unethical and only done by non-whites. Sounds a bit dodgy. He injects Lord Southery with the amber fluid that Fu-Manchu used to resurrect Aziz and he comes back to life. Mr Henderson faints.

Then Smith warns them all to be quiet. "HE is here." The HE in capital letters can only refer to Dr Fu-Manchu, obviously. "At last the cunning Chinaman was about to fall into a trap. It would require all his genius, I thought, to save him to-night. Unless his suspicions were aroused by the unlocked door, his capture was imminent."

There's a fight; Fu-Manchu brought a dacoit who stabs Smith and is shot in return. They escape in a car. Trying to chase them would be futile, but Smith thinks he knows where they are going. "Stradwick Hall is less than ten miles from the coast."* He points out the easiest way to get an unconscious man to either his base on the Thames or indeed to China would be in a boat, probably a yacht.

Lord Southery interrupts. "Gentlemen," he said, "it seems I am raised from the dead." Classy!

Smith acknowledges this and then says that, as he knows Fu-Manchu was in Germany three years ago when the great engineer Von Homber died or "died", he predicts that his group has him. "And the futurist group in China knows how to MAKE men work!" Ouch.

* Okay then, so L- is NOT Leicester. Could still be Lancaster or Liverpool. Still very puzzled as to why it's not a named place. Is THIS why the book is called The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu in the UK?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty Two

(The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu/Chapter Twenty Two/Watcha gonna do/Rhymes coming out like woo)

Smith and Petrie are at an impasse. Petrie must keep his promise to Karamaneh to save her brother, but doesn't know what the drug that makes him appear dead is, nor the amber fluid that revives him. Smith, of course, wants to raid Fu-Manchu's house now they know where it is.

Petrie ponders on Fu-Manchu's abilities. "What perverted genius was his! If that treasury of obscure wisdom which he, perhaps alone of living men, had rifled, could but be thrown open to the sick and suffering, the name of Dr. Fu-Manchu would rank with the golden ones in the history of healing."

Smith comes to a decision; to catch the next train to L-.* They race off, comparing great engineers; Petrie admits that the recently deceased Lord Southery might not have been as good as Von Homber of Berlin, but he's been dead for three years. And was German.

Smith muffles himself "up to his eyes" to try and inspect the others on the train without being identified and has Petrie hide in a compartment. "At present I am hopelessly mystified," he says.

At Rugby Smith talks to the stationmaster and when they arrive at L-** a "high-power"*** car is waiting. It takes 20 minutes (so a few miles out of town) to arrive. "Stradwick Hall," said Smith. "The home of Lord Southery. We are first—but Dr. Fu-Manchu was on the train."

Maybe you should have arrested him Smith. Just saying.

*  "Look up the next train to L—!" he rapped.
"To L—? What—?"
What indeed! Is it obscene? Fictional? Is he going to libel, I don't know Liverpool or Leicester or Lee-on-sea?

** So, is L- Leicester, or did they go on to Leeds or Lancaster? Or Liverpool, although I'd have thought they'd need to change at Crewe on that line maybe? Why leave it ambiguous? Is Lord Southery based on someone? This is the greatest mystery of the book so far.

*** 1912 everyone. How high-powered was it? Maybe something like this:
a Vauxhall Prince Henry, state-of-the-art in 1911, sometimes considered the first sports car as it got it's speed from design and construction rather than jamming in the biggest engine possible. Or more likely as it's provincial England, it'll be one of those ones that gets speed from a big engine in a heavy chassis.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty One

(I'm reading  The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Twenty One; our heroes suspect an agent of the doctor has escaped on a liner with some secret plans and have alerted the authorities, but they themselves have stayed at home in London where it's nice and safe other than Fu-Manchu being there, obviously.)

The chapter opens like this "TIME wore on and seemingly brought us no nearer, or very little nearer, to our goal." I hear you Petrie. We're two thirds through and it's unconnected (if interesting) incident following unconnected incident. Episodic in fact; Petrie, Smith and Fu-Manchu unchanging, return to the status quo at the end of each section.

A pity it was written before television as it would make a cracking series.

Anyway, they receive a report from China that a curious event occurred off Shanghai on board the liner the Andaman, which probably had the plans for the West aero-torpedo and an agent of Fu-Manchu aboard. After a blue flare from a junk, someone jumped overboard. When the police checked James Edwards* was discovered to be missing.

Smith then asks Petrie who stands at the head of their list of people Fu-Manchu might consider a threat. It's Lord Southery, who the paper has just reported dead. Sir Frank Narcombe has pronounced the death to be unsuspicious**. Smith can't be bothered to investigate.  "Either a greater One than Fu-Manchu has taken Lord Southery, or the yellow doctor has done his work so well that no trace remains of his presence in the matter."

Then he changes his mind and they go round to look upon Henry Stradwick, Lord Southery, the greatest engineer of his day. "The mind that lay behind that splendid brow had planned the construction of the railway for which Russia had paid so great a price, had conceived the scheme for the canal which, in the near future, was to bring two great continents, a full week's journey nearer one to the other.***"

They question the doctor who explains his lordship's heart condition and during the discussion Smith declares "Neither Dr. Petrie nor myself are in any way connected with the police," which is something of a fib for a man who can send two detectives to China at an hours notice. They also question the valet who observed nothing out of the ordinary. My natural causes theory is looking good.

An evening a few days later Petrie has just discovered a book on Oriental Secret Societies**** in a second-hand book shop on New Oxford Street when he is accosted by a woman, and it's Karamaneh, because of course it is, "dressed in a perfectly fitting walking habit, and had much of her wonderful hair concealed beneath a fashionable hat."

She asks Petrie to come and see her brother. They go to the lower end of Commercial Road; Limehouse again. "Aliens of every shade of color were about us now, emerging from burrow-like alleys into the glare of the lamps upon the main road. In the short space of the drive we had passed from the bright world of the West into the dubious underworld of the East."

They head into the maze of back streets, and into a dilapidated building. Inside is a richly furnished rom with Fu-Manchu's marmoset. Beyond is the doctor's laboratory, and a boy who looks very like Karamaneh "save that the girl's coloring was more delicate." His name is Aziz and Petrie examines him, but finds he's dead.

Someone comes and they hide on the balcony. "Yellow-robed, immobile, the inhuman green eyes glittering catlike even, it seemed, before the light struck them, he threaded his way through the archipelago of cushions and bent over the couch of Aziz." He injects him with a mysterious amber liquid. Aziz comes back to life and a hideously scarred servant brings him some food.

They escape and Karamaneh hands over a sample of the liquid.

* "I think the name was assumed. The man was some sort of Oriental."

** Eventually they are bound to come across someone who wasn't killed by Fu-Manchu, I'm sure.

*** Rohmer gives credit for both the Trans-Siberian railway and the Panama canal to his fictional creation. In fact British involvement was minimal in Panama and although some equipment in Siberia was British most of it was to Russian design and specification.

**** He doesn't buy it which is a pity as undoubtedly it would have given us some entertainingly lurid details.

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Watch Films: The Final Programme

18th February 3102 BC. In the afternoon.

Imagine a trippy British drama, sci-fi/spy-fi, from the late 60s-early 70s, a bit of The Prisoner, a little of The Avengers. Now imagine the feature film version; bigger budget (helicopters!) although clearly still restricted, a longer but not actually more coherent story, some extremely groovy costumes. Then make it more adult in the drugs-sex-violence-nudity sense (it's still childish in many ways, and frighteningly adult in it's demands that you keep up with the tone and story shifts). Finally make it about 70-80% more bonkers than you thought it was.

We're now somewhere in the filmic region where The Final Programme sits.

The Third World War has been going on for years, but no one noticed because they're watching the bloody commercials.

The film opens at the funeral of Alexander Cornelius in Lapland. A scientist who worked for him asks his son Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch), dressed in full new romantic style, about a microfilm, probably in the family home back in England. Jerry intends to destroy the house and his brother Frank after rescuing his sister Catherine. He travels through a groovy-apocalyptic London (with the iconic view of piles of cars in Trafalgar Square) buying an F4 Phantom Jet and napalm (neither appear on screen).

He meets up with a trio of scientists, the mysterious Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre in a variety of unlikely outfits), and the equally mysterious Dimitri, who is left behind on their expedition to the house. The house is, obviously, a maze full of weird traps and defences. Jerry gets into a needle-gun fight with Frank (leather jacket, T-shirt, early beatles hair), is drugged by him and accidently kills Catherine. Frank then tricks the others and escapes with the microfilm.

After a brief interlude involving Jerry drinking industrial waste from a French wine district and Miss Brunner firstly introducing and secondly absorbing into herself an assistant, they fly to Turkey to track down Frank. He tries to sell the microfilm to Dr Baxter, but Jerry chases and finally kills him while Miss Brunner absorbs Baxter.

They return to Lapland where the nature of the final programme is explained in it's full grotesque technobabble glory; it involves brains in tanks, a computer with the entire knowledge of mankind, a room that has been absorbing uninterrupted sunlight for six weeks, and combining Miss Brunner with another person; it was going to be Dimitri but the microfilm reveals that it's Jerry. Miss Brunner tries and fails to kill Dimitri so he and Jerry fight; injured Jerry goes into the sun chamber with Miss Brunner and there is a crazy sequence that ends with them becoming the ultimate human.

I have it on very good authority the world is coming to an end so I thought I'd go home and watch it on television.

This is based on the novel The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock, in fact the only film made of  of his fiction. I haven't actually read it, although I've read some other Jerry Cornelius stories and I'm not going to make a comparison (which is probably a good thing). The film is not a satire, although it does satirise certain elements of the time, and some are still relevant. It comes out and says that the apocalypse is going on, and most of the time things are genuinely weird, strange and/or horrific yet there's a banal edge to it. People still go out to crazy-future pinball arenas or restaurants; Jerry's flat is full of empty bottles and his fridge is full of biscuits. It's this that grounds the film, while highlighting the more incongruous elements. Jerry lives partly in our world turned up to eleven and only partly in a freaky sci-fi universe.

People have drawn parallels between the story in The Final Programme and the Elric stories (which I am familiar with). This may have been diluted in the film; there's a hint of it with a violent incestuous love-triangle, and with Miss Brunner taking the role of the vampire sword Stormbringer, absorbing people's souls. On the other hand Moorcock has returned to these ideas several times in his enormous output so shoving them into his groovy-apocalypse is hardly surprising.

Now I hate long goodbyes, so piss off!

Watch This: For a slice of stylised slightly-crazy 70s British sci-fi that challenges you to keep up as it skips lightly over a set of silly, thoughtful and/or just flat out bizarre ideas
Don't Watch This: If you want a film that makes sense, or doesn't show it's age and a restricted budget.
Final Thought: It's a tasty world.

Fu-Manchu Chapter Twenty

 (Still reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu aka The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu because Fu-Manchu is so cunning even the novel has an alias. In Chapter Twenty, Smith and Petrie are on their way to Tilbury for not-yet-explained reasons)

Petrie is puzzled by Fu-Manchu's latest plot although he takes a moment to warn us that someone who takes hashish is "converted temporarily into a maniac". He asks Smith about it as they dash through London in a cab. Smith thinks the bird tracks on the window sill of the locked room mystery belong to Fu-Manchu's marmoset*. He suspects the marmoset carried up a cord and took it over the safety bar (for window cleaners) which was used to carry up a rope which was used to lift one of their silk and bamboo ladders. "To his giant will the drugged brain of West was a pliant instrument which he bent to his own ends." Ah the explanation to the locked room mystery is a monkey! Classic.

Smith has also decoded the message from Karamaneh "ANDAMAN - SECOND", explaining that "The ANDAMAN, of the Oriental Navigation Company's line, leaves Tilbury with the next tide for China ports. Our man is a second-class passenger. I am wiring to delay her departure, and the special should get us to the docks inside of forty minutes." That should wrap things up nicely!

Petrie is impressed by the organisation; a special train, several police, and a great liner delayed. "It was novel, and infinitely exciting." 1912, you had to make your own entertainment.

Smith has a problem; he does not know which of the second class passengers is his man. "I am instructing the authorities at all ports east of Suez to apprehend one of your second-class passengers, should he leave the ship. He is in possession of plans which practically belong to the British Government!**" They will search their luggage when they leave the ship; in the meantime he instructs the captain to have his crew "watch any passenger of Oriental nationality." Could be a few of them considering that the ship is heading east. And, yes, two men from Scotland Yard are being sent abroad at an hour's notice. I hope they haven't arranged to do anything for the next couple of months.

They watch the ship leave but then hear a voice say, "Another victory for China, Mr. Nayland Smith!" It is the voice of Dr Fu-Manchu***. " It is beyond my powers to convey the sense of the uncanny which the episode created," says Petrie.

Petrie admits that there is no explanation for the voice, just as there was none for his drugged fever dream that showed him Fu-Manchu's laboratory****.

"Perhaps that wisdom—the wisdom stored up by Fu-Manchu—is lost forever. There is, however, at least a bare possibility of its survival, in part; and I do not wholly despair of one day publishing a scientific sequel to this record of our dealings with the Chinese doctor." Well, that would be interesting.

* Which is, as he notes, a new world monkey. Are there no limits to Fu-Manchu's grasp? (no)

** Although not ACTUALLY as West has not yet made an agreement. Smith is stretching the truth here and also signalling it by his use of the word "practically". I'm shocked.

*** Or as Petrie puts it "But the voice was the voice of DOCTOR FU-MANCHU."

**** "Can it be that we were drugged on that occasion with Indian hemp? Cannabis indica is a treacherous narcotic, as every medical man knows full well; but Fu-Manchu's knowledge of the drug was far in advance of our slow science." Ah Petrie, I rather think you are more familiar with the hashish than you are letting on.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fu Manchu Chapter Nineteen

 (I'm reading The Invidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Nineteen. Our heroes have arrived to discover the American inventor Frank Norris West unconscious and his aero-torpedo plans missing)

To recap, West locked the plans for his aero-torpedo in the safe and told no one the combination; he locked and bolted his door so the police had to break it down to get in; "No human being could climb up or down to your windows." Yet some Chinese men came in, drugged West and now the plans are missing. It is a genuine locked room mystery.* So - inside job?

Petrie makes a deduction and West admits to taking two chloral tablets. West had a dream that there were horrible Chinamen in his rooms. At the climax he saw a sound coming from his mouth that Smith suggests was the combination. He also remembered the name "Bayard Taylor."

Smith thinks on this, on Petrie's suggestion of the Frenchman Moreau, and "ANDAMAN -SECOND"; puts together these gnomic clews and asks "when is the first train to Tilbury?" "Five twenty-two from Fenchurch Street," comes the answer. Smith is unimpressed.

"Too late! Jump in a taxi and pick up two good men to leave for China at once**! Then go and charter a special to Tilbury to leave in twenty-five minutes. Order another cab to wait outside for me." A special train! Sounds expensive.

Bayard Taylor's book The Land of the Saracen apparently contains a passage describing the sensation of being under the influence of hashish; West's unconscious mind has linked the his symptoms and so they assume that is what he was drugged with. "I have no doubt that now you experience a feeling of nausea and intense thirst, with aching in the muscles, particularly the deltoid," says Petrie, apparently familiar with it***. West had a visit from a foreign lady who they assume was Karamaneh, because who else would it be, and switched his chloral tablets for some containing hashish.

West admits that two European governments have attempted to get hold of his plans, but a Chinaman is a novelty; Smith describes Fu-Manchu as "the greatest novelty of his age," perhaps an understatement.

This is all very well, but they still don't know how Fu-Manchu entered the rooms and in any case Smith doesn't care; he wants to be at Tilbury within the hour.

* Smith asked West if anyone could have been hidden in his chambers; no because West looked. He invariably did. Sounds a bit paranoid to me.

** Does... does Scotland Yard really have two men standing by to go to the other side of the world? Just in case?

*** "Canabis indicia. Indian Hemp." Yes, yes Petrie. No need to show off.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fu-Manchu Chapter Eleven

 (A third of the way through The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu published in the UK under the alternative title The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu. Petrie and Smith have been called to the house of Sir Lionel Barton as, despite Smith's warnings, they have received a telegram that he has been murdered.)

They arrive at the house of Sir Lionel Barton after midnight. It seems neglected, not surprisingly as Sir Lionel seems to spend most of his time abroad. Inside "...the hall was constructed from the model of some apartment in an Assyrian temple, and the squat columns, the low seats, the hangings, all were eloquent of neglect, being thickly dust-coated." Exotic and interesting!

They arrive at the library and are surprised to encounter "...a young puma, or a civet-cat, or something..." just hanging about the house. Clearly Sir Lionel was an unconventional gentleman.

Smith had arrange for Scotland Yard to post a constable outside, and he reported that nothing had happened until half past ten when a young lady (gasp), Miss Edmonds the shorthand typist*. It seems she had left her bag behind. Arriving she went into violent hysterics. The policeman rushed in. "He saw a negro footman—there isn't an Englishman in the house—trying to pacify the girl out in the hall yonder, and a Malay and another colored man beating their foreheads and howling. There was no sense to be got out of any of them, so he started to investigate for himself." The library was locked from the inside. Through the window he saw the Egyptian Mummy case lying on it's side and Sir Lionel lying face down on top of it. Breaking in, he then sees a sort of green mist, or as the book puts it "A sort of GREEN MIST."

Just outside the door was a dead Chinaman. "A dead chinaman!" exclaims Smith. "A dead CHINAMAN," repeats the inspector. Sounds like a clew!

However entering the library they discover something unexpected; the body is not Sir Lionel, but instead his secretary, Strozza. Inspecting the other body it turns out to be Kwee, Sir Lionel's servant. Well, this has got confusing rapidly. Strozza was wearing Sir Lionel's dressing gown** and no one who knew him had looked closely at the body! Smith deduces that only Strozza knew Sir Lionel was absent as the other servants seemed convinced he was dead. It seems that Strozza, taking advantage of his absence, had decided to wear Sir Lionel's clothes and rifle through his sarcophagus; meanwhile Kwee for his own inscrutable reasons was hiding in the conservatory, waiting for his own opportunity to enter the library. Something (the green mist) had come out the mummy case and killed them.

Smith also concludes that Fu-Manchu is behind the scheme. "The presence of a concealed Chinaman surely is sufficient. Kwee, I feel assured, was one of the murder group, though probably he had only recently entered that mysterious service."***

Sir Lionel returns; he had been to see Professor Rembold at The Traveler's. He concludes that Strozza was after the jewels in the case. Professor Rembold had warned Sir Lionel not to open the sarcophagus. It seems that this was from the tomb of the priest Mekara, one of the magi who contended with Moses. The last time one of these was found, by M Page le Roi, the discoverer was found strangled. It seems that as well as Fu-Manchu, there's also Ancient Egyptian magic at large in the world.

Having (possibly) escaped on assassination attempt by Fu-Manchu thanks to a cursed mummy, Smith suggests to Sir Lionel to accompany him to a hotel as that's bound to make it impossible for Fu-Manchu to find him, I mean seriously Smith, what has happened to your paranoia here? Oh well.

* We may recall from the previous chapter that Sir Lionel was dictating at two hundred words per minute; clearly she is a skilled professional.

** Hmm.

*** Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, yet Smith has admitted to wondering if Fu-Manchu might be behind every suicide, accident or murder he reads about; a Chinese person being in an unusual place seems sufficient for him to add them to the conspiracy. I think he's in danger of reading too much into things.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fu_Manchu Chapter Ten.

 (I'm reading The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu and have reached Chapter Ten. So far they have failed to save Sir Lionel Crichton, uncovered how undercover policemen were being killed although brought no one to justice, and prevented an attack on the Reverend Eltham, at the cost of him not returning to China, which was what Fu-Manchu wanted. Now read on as Petrie and Smith make some sweeping generalisations about China and the Chinese.)

Petrie reads some newspaper articles and decides that Chinese people are scum.* Smith arrives and they discuss Sir Lionel Barton, "Orientalist and explorer, the fearless traveler who first had penetrated to Lhassa, who thrice, as a pilgrim, had entered forbidden Mecca, he now had turned his attention again to Tibet—thereby signing his own death-warrant." He has been in Egypt and now returned to London. Smith tried to warn him that he was in danger, but Sir Lionel laughed at him. Smith describes his house:

"You ought to see his house at Finchley. A low, squat place completely hemmed in by trees. Damp as a swamp; smells like a jungle. Everything topsy-turvy. He only arrived to-day, and he is working and eating (and sleeping I expect), in a study that looks like an earthquake at Sotheby's auction-rooms. The rest of the house is half a menagerie and half a circus. He has a Bedouin groom, a Chinese body-servant, and Heaven only knows what other strange people!"

The Chinese race being uniformly cruel, Petrie exclaims at that. "Yes, I saw him; a squinting Cantonese he calls Kwee. I don't like him. Also, there is a secretary known as Strozza, who has an unpleasant face." Well Smith, you certainly are unhappy with all these foreigners in the household. Perhaps more importantly, Sir Lionel's bagge, including his Tibetan notes, have gone missing, a fact that Petrie declares "Significant." However Sir Lionel is dictating his book again from memory at two hundred words per minute**, stopping only when Smith interruped him, and also to accept delivery of an Egyptian Sarcophagus.

Smith sinks into a despression at their helplessness before the yellow peril. "I never see a report of someone found drowned, of an apparent suicide, of a sudden, though seemingly natural death, without wondering. I tell you, Fu-Manchu is omnipresent; his tentacles embrace everything." Tentacles. Nice.

Then a telegram arrives, that tells them Sir Lionel has been murdered and summoning them to his house.

* Here's a direct quote: "No white man, I honestly believe, appreciates the unemotional cruelty of the Chinese."

Newspaper article 1 is about the hunt for a scorpion dealer in Maui whose insects are used for female infanticide. Article 2 is about the attempted murder of the Governor of Hong Kong; the men caught were financed by the Canton Triad. Article 3 is about the murder of 100 people and destruction of a house belonging to a Russian in Khotan in "Chinese Turkestan". Article 4 is in the personal column "HO-NAN. Have abandoned visit.—ELTHAM."

Articles 2, 3 and 4 are all plausibly about Fu-Manchu, or the Chinese political scene in general. He includes the first article for this reason: "Is it any matter for wonder that such a people had produced a Fu-Manchu? I pasted the cutting into a scrap-book, determined that, if I lived to publish my account of those days, I would quote it therein as casting a sidelight upon Chinese character." Yes quite. A Chinese immigrant minority are resorting to infanticide, and his conclusion is that they are cruel, rather than, I don't know, poor, desperate, under pressure to raise male children etc.

** His secretary, or amanuensis, is extremely on form if he's keeping up with this.