Friday, November 6, 2015

Emperor Fu-Manchu!

Emperor Fu-Manchu is the final novel by Sax Rohmer about his infamous "Devil Doctor".  Published in 1957 - the same year that Rohmer passed away - the exotic and shadowy world of Fu-Manchu is now portrayed against the geopolitical nightmare of the "Cold War". The Soviets and the Communists in China are seen really as the true threats here while Fu-Manchu while still deadly is presented almost as an offset against the predations of the Red threat.

We follow the hero Tony McKay (hate that name) who has just enough Chinese in his bloodline to pass and so becomes an agent for Sir Nayland Smith, who despite the many years of his struggle against Fu-Manchu seems mature but hardly aged. Sadly Smith also seems a bit redundant in the story which I kept hoping would focus on him more. McKay has the usual tumble with various threats but his singular connection is with a beautiful Chinese girl he calls "Moon Flower". Her real identity of course becomes central to the action and McKay and she fall in and out of danger throughout a story which rumbles along with decent pace but little direction. There is some noise about biological warfare and I suppose the main focus is to find and shut down a facility which is engaged in this research, but it seems to fail to hold the attention of our heroes as one would think.

The one lurid detail of the story are Fu-Manchu's "Cold Men".-- zombies in all but name who are revived and maintained in a weird state of hypnosis. As with many of Fu-Manchu's threats in the later books, less is made of them than I'd have liked though they do play a critical role in the climax of the story.

The final Fu-Manchu novel is perfectly okay, but does lack the atmosphere of earlier outings, mostly due to the fact that our hero seems a bit too bland and our classic titular villain seems somewhat smaller in a more modern world in which the very real threat of atomic destruction makes his toxins and magics feel quaint.

There is one more volume in this collection, an anthology of smaller tales by Rohmer. That is due out from Titan next spring. I look forward to finishing the Fu-Manchu saga, it's been a wild ride for several years now.

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