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.

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