Monday, September 15, 2014

The Island Of Fu-Manchu!

The Island of Fu-Manchu is another installment in Sax Rohmer's prodigious series presenting the Devil Doctor's schemes to seize control of the planet.

This one picks up some time after the previous volume and completes some of the threads developed there. We are told the story once again by Bart Kerrigan and we again encounter his true love, the gorgeous Ardatha who happens to work for the Fu-Manchu himself. Sir Nayland Smith is right here too, this time a bit more in the background, but no less intent on bringing the Asian menace to ground.

The story was, like its predecessors, serialized in magazine form. This shows up in the storytelling which divides into recognizable parts, which seemed much less obvious from some of the most recent previous books.

The actual island referenced is in the Caribbean and that brings our heroes to the Americas again, after some proper locked room mystery in good old England. Actually this particular novel begins a bit slowly, but by the end the action is properly heated and the adventure ends literally with an epic bang. Although the the raging world conflict is referenced in the novel, this adventure by and large happens parallel to world events and is not involved in the happenings directly of World War II.

What I found most striking about this one was that it felt for all the world like Rohmer meant to end the series here. We get a nice detailed look behind the scenes at Fu-Manchu's operation inside a sleeping volcano, an operation which combines the Devil Doctor's avaricious interest in biology, especially the lethal aspects, and high-tech gadgetry. The nature of Fu-Manchu's slavish servants is explored and tied into the macabre concepts of voodoo which is fully on display in this sometimes weird adventure. We have anti-gravity gimmicks and death rays all over the joint. Fu-Manchu's secret lair is so high-tech and so riddled with radioactive agents that his workers must wear uniforms to protect them from the effects.

I was very  much reminded of Dr.No's lair in the debut James Bond movie and other Bond secret bases in Thunderball and elsewhere. There's no doubt that Dr.No was inspired by Fu-Manchu, but having read The Island of Fu-Manchu, I'm a little shocked that Ian Fleming didn't catch more heat for having ripped off Rohmer's yarn.

Taken together with its predecessor The Drums of Fu-Manchu, this novel forms a right action-filled story. The previous novel had a great beginning and this one has a great ending. Take out some of the middle sections and you'd have a Fu-Manchu novel bristling from beginning to end indeed.

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