Sax Rohmer

The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu

An intrepid detective hunts the criminal mastermind Fu-Manchu through early 20th-century London.

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The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, first published in the UK as The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, is the first novel to introduce the inimitable Fu-Manchu, famous not just for his moustache, but for being a nigh-unstoppable criminal mastermind and part of the “Yellow Peril.” This novel is a collection of previously-published short stories, slightly re-written by Rohmer to form a cohesive whole.

The narrator, Dr. Petrie, is a sort of Watson to Nayland Smith’s Holmes; but Smith resembles more of a James Bond than a Sherlock Holmes as the two barrel through action scenes and near-death scenarios planned by Fu-Manchu, a master scientist, chemist, and poisoner.

This novel was one of the first to popularize the trope of the “mysterious Chinaman,” an element that later became so clichéd that Ronald Knox, the famous detective story writer, declared that “no Chinaman must figure” in good detective stories.

The casual racism evident in the characters and events is a symptom of the xenophobic climate in the UK at the time, which was precipitated by many things—the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, Chinese immigration, and other fears. Despite that racism, the plot remains fast-paced and engaging, and is lent a modern air by Fu-Manchu’s role as an early prototype for a Bond supervillain.