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!

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