Technically, this was released as The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (although the hyphen was later dropped). The US market had the alternative title. Needless to say, the author was also known by another name (Sax being his pen name).
It follows the tale of (Denis) Nayland Smith but is narrated by his friend Dr. Petrie in very much the Holmes/Watson style. Their mission, started late one night, is to track and capture a master criminal known as Dr. Fu Manchu. He, we are told, is a brilliant and ruthless adversary who will stop at nothing to carry out the work of some clandestine group.
Unlike Holmes, Nayland Smith represents the crown and carries some high-ranking but unexplained position, not that the resources of Scotland Yard usually help him in the pursuit of his foe. So the story is largely one of the pair racing to save the latest target of Dr. Fu Manchu (often failing) and picking up the pieces of yet another murder, all while trying to get closer to the man himself.
It’s fast-paced and action-packed, very much a boys’ own adventure and a tale of Empire. The only woman of note is a slave of the doctor’s who falls in love with Petrie and does much to save him in times of peril.
The tale takes us through the underbelly of London in the early 20th century; involving drugs, slavery and murder. It is the attitude to race that modern readers will find most distasteful though, as Rohmer vilifies practically anyone who is not white (a view not uncommon at the time and present in many works of the period, not that this makes it any more defensible).
The notion and attitudes are a bit show-stopping early on but then increase in frequency later in the story, leaving no room for interpretation as to his meaning. Although the language is a bit blunter, there’s echoes in much of what we see in the press today.
This was another Librivox recording and was read by the mysterious FNH (from sunny Anchorage, Alaska, as stated at the end of each chapter). Very good quality, one of the best audiobooks I have listened too and easily on a par with any professional recording.
Provided you can stomach the racism, it’s an intriguing enough story with a quick pace.
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Reviewed: 1st February 2016