Book Review: The Hand of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

There are very few people that can say their work hangs in the same literary circle as the original Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Sax Rohmer would be able to make that distinction if he were alive today, but unfortunately, he died over 50 years ago.  However, his characters continue to live on, and thanks to the good folks at Titan Books, a new generation of readers can easily access them in the series of re-releases recently put out.

The only trouble I find with the series are the stark similarities to Doyle’s team of Holmes and Watson with his own team of Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie.  Other than that, there are similarities in the two series’, but they are the best similarities, such as the rollicking adventures, exotic locations, and dangerous arch villains.  Since Rohmer was British and The Hand of Fu Manchu was written in 1917, the language is often a bit of a chore to modern American readers, but the fact remains that the story is fast paced and keeps the attention of the reader.  Reading it now, there is a certain amount of racism in regard to the villain that the reader has to overlook, but those that understand that the book was written in a small-minded time can do so easily.

The book begins with Smith and Petrie being pulled off an adventure in Egypt to investigate reports of Dr. Fu Manchu in their home town of London.  As this is the third book in the series, it helps to have read the previous entry in the series, The Return of Fu Manchu, where we learn that that Fu Manchu was shot in the head and believed dead.

As they begin to investigate, they find the telltale signs of Fu Manchu’s return in London, where they are pulled further into the mystery until Petrie is kidnapped and forced to save the evil doctor’s life when he learns his fiance Karamenah has been kidnapped by Fu Manchu’s shadow army, the Si-Fan.  Petrie and Smith follow Smith’s uncanny instincts for deduction and adventure in order to track down the evil doctor and save Petrie’s fiance.  Other men of import in London are also pulled into the conspiracy, and each one of them plays a particular role in tracking down the Si-Fan and uncovering their conspiracy to take over London for their secret Asian agenda.

The books stays consistently entertaining, and full of adventure, with action scene after action scene until the intense conclusion that sees them hunting Fu Manchu in the bowels of a London estate.  The writing is smart and fast paced, like a James Bond novel, with a more realistic villain.  For fans of Sherlock Holmes, this is a good alternative for those that have exhausted Doyle’s series concerning the detective, and there are enough differences to keep a distance between the two series’.

Titan Books has included a few extras in the book as well, including an essay on the writings of Sax Rohmer and a short biography on the man himself, making it a worthy addition to the collection of anyone interested in adventure/detective novels from the era.  This is a fun read and a change of pace from modern adventure novels, as most are mere imitations of the works of Doyle and Rohmer.  This is the real deal, imitation free.


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