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The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer
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The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchu (1913)

by Sax Rohmer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Fu Manchu (1)

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5152119,696 (3.24)37
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    Dracula by Bram Stoker (leigonj)
    leigonj: Both are adventure/ detective stories in which the heroes must battle to stop mysterious, evil, foreign antagonists striking at the very heart of the British Empire.
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English (19)  French (2)  All (21)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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.

The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu has all the weaknesses of the typical pulp stories of its era. It perpetuates racial and gender stereotypes, it relies too much on melodrama, and it overuses hyperbole. And yet, with all that, it still manages to entertain.

The two protagonists, Petrie and Nayland Smith, are out to save the world from the evil genius Dr. Fu-Manchu. Try as they might to stop him, Fu-Manchu always stays one step ahead, moving from one shady hideout to the next, unleashing horrible dangers upon helpless victims. Fortunately, the two heroes have the help of the alluring Karamaneh, woman of mystery.

Fans of the old pulp magazines like Doc Savage, The Shadow or Weird Tales will find much to enjoy in The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu. Readers with more modern tastes may find it offensive and hard to stomach.

As for me, despite its flaws, I loved its energy, its exotic flavor, and the way Rohmer brings the evil Fu-Manchu to life. ( )
  nsenger | Feb 1, 2017 |
Absolutely unreadable. But I know I enjoyed these when I was in high school. ( )
  themulhern | Jan 21, 2017 |
Episodic and moderately entertaining yarn (or yarns) pitting Edwardian British Government agent Nayland Smith and his cohort, friend and narrator, Dr. Petrie, against the master criminal "yellow peril personified" Dr. Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu himself is the most interesting character, and his varied and ingenious ways of facilitating murder in inaccessible locales and locked rooms the most entertaining tropes. It was also amusing to read a thriller actually written in this era (circa 1913) depicting a world now so often treated in steampunk fare.

As to the "politically incorrect" aspect, I will only observe that these stories were written on the heels of the Boxer Rebellion and opium wars. What can we make of the paranoia about the Yellow Race seeking to dominate the White Race if not the imperialists suppressed guilt projected outward onto to imagined mastermind of evil? ( )
  JackMassa | Nov 23, 2016 |
To a student a literature, there are classics of older times for which allowances that must be made to understand the cultural in which they were written.

And then there's The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu

The story is simple enough. Knock-off Sherlock Holmes (henceforth KOSH) returns from Asia, informing Knock-Off of Doctor Watson (henceforth KODW) of the threat of . . .

Well, he doesn't really say, honestly. KOSH just pulls KODW through an entire adventure, occasionally mentioning someone named Fu Manchu without explaining who that person is or what they want. Honestly, the book makes an equal amount of sense at this point if you replace every occurrence of "Fu Manchu" with "Mr. Potato Head."

Eventually, we learn that Fu Manchu is a nefarious Chinese covert agent, working for a secret Chinese council to further his country's interests. With his army of assassins, masters of strange science, and expertise in poisons, Fu Manchu plans to help China rise high on the global stage.

The underscores an important point. Fu Manchu is, by far, the most sympathetic, interesting, and likable character in this book. He's the Chinese James Bond or Nick Fury, committing plans with style and panache, often sparing his enemies' lives, and generally making me wish he'd murder the Baker Street knock-off duo.

Of course, the reader is supposed to find Fu Manchu horrifying because the Chinese people are, Sax Rohmer constantly reminds us, an evil subhuman race of unimaginable cruelty and inscrutable motives.

I've read Lovecraft and the Tarzan novels, and this is one of the most racist things I've ever read. Like, "describing Chinese people with terms like 'chattering' 'simian,' and 'yellow paws'" racist. KODW spends a good chunk of a chapter informing us of how the Chinese in Hawaii are buying scorpions to murder their infant girls with plausible deniability, remarking that only the Chinese have a character capable of producing a Fu Manchu.

Every Chinese person in the book is, obviously enough, an agent of Fu Manchu. Aside from the man himself, only one of them speaks; I didn't understand any his dialogue until I realized I had to read the l's as r's.

This is the core of the book, which never fails to remind us that the central conflict is White vs. Yellow. Other nonwhites don't come out so good either. Rohmer fills a mansion murder scheme with a surprising diversity, only to proceed to generate a singularity of stereotypes.

. . . and we come to the Egyptian love interest.

She's exotic, beautiful, courageous, and KODW apologizes to his reader at the disgust they must have for his attraction to her, as the very idea of a white man loving an Asian is, to him, stomach-turning. KOSH offers sound relationship advice. It's like Cyrano, only the best friend is suggesting the girl in question would quite like being dragged by her hair into a cellar and threatened with a whip. Because Asians.

She doesn't disabuse the notion, basically saying, "Lock me up, and I'll tell you everything! You wanna beat me?" The romantic dynamic between our protagonist and the femme fatale makes [book:Fifty Shades of Grey|10818853] look like a gender studies textbook.

So there's my conumdrum. There are thrills and mysteries in here that I really liked, escapades and traps, world-building and wonders, and they are awesome. When Fu Manchu needs to eliminate an enemy of Chinese ambition, they are dealt with in ways that perfectly blend pulp and mystery. I was cheering and the ingenuity of several, and there's a kidnapping attempt so brilliant that I want to throw it into my role-playing games.

And then there's Fu Manchu himself.

"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."

So, surprisingly, no mustache. Like the Holmesian deerstalker, that was added in the films.

Fu Manchu is such a magnificent bastard, I can't help but love him. Once, our putative heroes stand on a dock, watching a ship sailing into the distance as a sign of their defeat in that particular case. KOSH immediately hears Fu's voice at his ear say, "Another victory for China, Mister Knock-off Sherlock Holmes!"

Did you catch that? The mastermind secret agent takes time out of his busy day to perform the 1904 espionage community equivalent of tea-bagging.

It is a thing of beauty to watch Fu Manchu in action. My favorite is from later in the book, where he lays down on a couch surrounded by trapdoors and either pretends or actually does smoke a bowl of opium, waiting for our heroes to rush him like racist Wile E. Coyotes.

All this joy is constantly punctuated by the narrator's reminder that Asians are subhuman.

In short, I hate the heroes and love the villain. So how do I grade this?

Well, I'm going to leave the racism on the table as something that bothers me. I've read a lot of fiction from that period as a longtime subscriber to the H.P.Lovecraft Literary Podcast, and few affected me like this. There's casual racism, there's heavy racism, and them there's this guy.

Sax Rohmer was pissed that he was banned in Nazi Germany, because he asserted his books were in no way ideologically opposed to Nazism. Screw that guy.

But the text does crackle at times. The deathtraps are awesome. Fu Manchu is amazing, strangely honorable, and endlessly creative.

So, here's how you can add two stars, making the review a total of four stars.

a) If I think of KODW as an unreliable narrator chronicling the battle between two equally imperial spies, it works.

b) If you picture the main characters as Inspector Clouseau-level bunglers, that's cool. They're the Colonel Klink of the pulp hero world.

c) If you can admit that a staggeringly racist author can, almost accidentally, create a rich character from the people that he despises.

After all, I truly love the character of Fu Manchu as he's presented here. I thought he was a fascinating badass when I first encountered him in Marvel Comics as the father of Shang Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu.

Dear merciful Glob, do I want that Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 1.

I can probably read The Return of Fu Manchu, as long as Fu Manchu is suitably magnificent in how he foils our "heroes." Guess what Fu Manchu book I'm looking forward to reading more?

Ten Years Beyond Baker Street.
Yup, . I bet the actual Holmes will have a lot less cringe-worthy dialogue about Chinese cruelty. ( )
  K.t.Katzmann | Apr 9, 2016 |
I read this "yellow menace" novel when I was a kid and was enthralled by Rohmer's depiction of evil personified. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sax Rohmerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Engle, MortCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"A gentleman to see you, Doctor."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Originally serialized in the Storyteller, October, 1912-July, 1913.

Please note: "Dr. Fu Manchu" (publ. Helge Erchsens Forlag, 1946) should NOT be separated. It's a Norwegian translation of "The insidious..".
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486298981, Paperback)

The first in the popular Fu-Manchu mystery series introduces English sleuth Denis Nayland Smith and his companion, Dr. Petrie, to the satanic Dr. Fu-Manchu, a cunning Chinese criminal mastermind who means to rule the world. Flavorful atmosphere, fast-paced action, and colorful characters enliven this 1913 classic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:59 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, 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. Imagine that awful being and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu." Dr. Fu-Manchu, the terrorizing and macabre master of a secretive Oriental organization, is dedicated to conquering the world. Fu-Manchu's greatest nemesis, British investigator Nayland Smith, is one of the few people who can meet Fu-Manchu's gaze without falling under his hypnotic power. It is up to Smith and his faithful companion, Dr. Petrie, to foil Dr. Fu-Manchu's diabolical plot. In The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, the lethal "Zayat Kiss," a red mark resembling the imprint of painted lips, is found among cocaine needle tracks on the dead body of Sir Crichton Davey. The power of Fu-Manchu is far-reaching as he employs a giant poisonous centipede, deadly toadstools, and lethal green mists to murder and kidnap the great minds of the West. Is the beautiful Karamaneh the key to uncovering the evil doctor's lair, or is she a pawn leading Smith and Petrie to their deaths… (more)

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 140010050X, 1400109396

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