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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu

Sax Rohmer

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To purchase The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu

Title: The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu
Author: Sax Rohmer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1913
Length: 293 pages
Availability: The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu - US
The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu - UK
The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu - Canada
The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu - India
Le mystérieux docteur Fu Manchu - France
  • Original US edition (also 1913) titled: The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu
  • With an afterword by Leslie S. Klinger

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Our Assessment:

B- : thin, hurried

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Bookman . 11/1913 Ralph Hobart Phillips

  From the Reviews:
  • "The volume is not a book of short stories but a well-connected narrative starting with the return to England of Wayland Smith, on the trail of his dangerous antagonist, and ending with the spectacular death or disappearance -- the reader is left in doubt -- of Dr. Fu-Manchu. The thrills are piled up skilfully, the style is simple and direct. A few affectations in the quieter passages are forgotten when things begin to happen. There is a touch of the supernatural that lends the final element of gruesomeness to the story, a reminder of Dracula, which comes as a surprise after the ultra modernity of the rest of the tale. In a word, the book is a very creditable specimen of its kind, and fulfils all the requirements the most exacting reader of that type of fiction could demand." - Ralph Hobart Phillips, The Bookman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu is the first in a long series of books featuring the eponymous Chinese über-villain. Narrated by Dr.Petrie, a Watson to the series' Holmes, Nayland Smith, it introduces this man who is the personification of the threat to (the British) Empire and the white race.
       The appeal of the novel and series lies in the terrible Fu-Manchu, who, after all, sounds like quite the guy as Smith describes him:

     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. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government -- which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.
       Indeed, Rohmer gets a lot of mileage out of describing just how horrible he is: a man "whose name stood for horrors indefinable !" he is "omnipresent; his tentacles embrace everything", etc. And, of course, there's that whole undermining of the Western way of life he's after:
He has the backing of a political group whose wealth is enormous, and his mission in Europe is to pave the way ! Do you follow me ? He is the advance-agent of a movement so epoch-making that not one Britisher, and not one American, in fifty thousand has ever dreamed of it.
       Fu-Manchu is also a particularly insidious threat because of his stealthy Oriental methods -- he kills in creative ways such as through the use of poisonous caterpillars and noxious gases, and employs dacoits to do some of his dirty work. So also, for example, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu features not one but several 'locked room' murder-mysteries, as men in locked rooms perish or thrown themselves to their deaths for no good apparent reason -- until, of course, Nayland Smith sniffs around.
       The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu has Smith and trusted sidekick Petrie rush from one place to the next, trying to prevent murder and trying to capture Fu-Manchu. It all zips along very, very quickly, with several confrontations with the good bad doctor, and near-miraculous escapes: originally serialized as stories, Rohmer did not flesh out much in pasting these together in this novel, and things move far too quickly from one action-piece to the next.
       Rohmer does spice things up with Kâramanèh, as one of Fu-Manchu's slaves calls herself. She finds herself falling head over heels in love with Petrie, and repeatedly helps him, even as she continues to do Fu-Manchu's bidding. Petrie wants to save her, but she is not ready to escape Fu-Manchu's clutches, the evil villain holding something else as well that assures she will remain under his control -- unless, of course, Petrie and Smith can fix that.
       It's all a bit too cartoonish and underdeveloped, the narrative hurtling along from one episode to the next without enjoying all their potential along the way. Too bad, because Rohmer's imagination is certainly rich, and Fu-Manchu makes for a fine villain.
       Of course, there's also that central aspect of the whole series that is very prominent here: yes, this isn't a book with racist undertones, this is just outright, blatant, wall-to-wall fear-mongering racism -- which can be tolerated in this context only because it is so ludicrous that it undermines itself. Still, as silly as it comes across, all the 'yellow peril' mumbo-jumbo -- which amounts to little more, as it is presented only in these nebulous terms, with little explanation of what actually might be behind it, or what it might mean -- is irritatingly tiresome, and lends more than just a sour aftertaste to the book.
       There's decent potential to this series, but The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu is a fairly weak beginning.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 February 2012

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The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu: Reviews: Sax Rohmer: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Sax Rohmer (actually: Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) lived 1883 to 1959.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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