Review By: David Stonehouse
Regular readers will remember that when I reviewed the previous book in this series, The Hand of Fu Manchu, I made the point that, although that instalment was fun, the whole Fu Manchu thing was getting a bit stale and repetitive. The episodic mini adventures seemed to have gone as far as they reasonably could and the whole formula needed a bit of a shake-up if it was going to keep my interest. Well, my Fu Manchu knowledge not being too vast, I wasn’t aware that Sax Rohmer took a long break from the character after writing The Hand…
In fact, it was twelve years before Rohmer returned to his characters and when he did he had refreshingly different approach. For the first time the adventure is not narrated by Doctor Petrie but by a new character, Mr Shan Greville, who finds himself caught up in some strange and sinister events surrounding an archaeological dig in Egypt. In response to the suspicious death of one of the archaeologists Greville consults our old friend and Yellow-Peril-Botherer Dr Petrie and before long our heroes come to the conclusion that the Si-Fan organisation is no longer dormant but up to its evil antics again. Given that Fu Manchu was believed to have died years before someone else must be behind the nefarious plots. There’s not a great deal of mystery to the identity of the new supervillain unless you somehow failed to read the book’s title. Yes, you guessed it, Fu Manchu’s deranged psychotic genius daughter, Fah Lo Suee, is now in charge. But don’t worry, her schemes are just as inventively mental as her old dad’s.
Once Petrie is introduced it isn’t a long wait before lots of other welcome familiar faces join the adventure. Nayland Smith returns, now a high ranking met officer, but his promotions haven’t diminished his genius for hair-brained schemes and ludicrous disguises. Dogged old Inspector Weymouth is back with his steadfast team always ready to back up our heroes. A really nice touch is that now Petrie is married to the beautiful Karamaneh who was such an intriguing and ambiguous presence in the earlier adventures.
In some ways this book is business as usual. Time may have moved on and the political landscape changed – this time the evil scheme involves destabilising the delicate regime in Turkey – but the bizarre twists and turns are still present and correct. There are apparently dead men who can be revived by secret chemicals, dwarf assassins, Burmese Dacoits, spies, kidnappers, doppelgangers, Kali –worshippers and god knows what else.
However, the innovation that sets this book apart from the earlier instalments is that this is one coherent adventure rather than a string of loosely connected short stories. The mystery begins in Egypt but continues across Europe back to a grand showdown in London. Having one long engrossing adventure full of surprises and twists makes for a much more rewarding experience. Rohmer’s written style had also matured somewhat during his twelve year break from Fu Manchu and there are fewer instances of the cringe-worthy histrionics that sometimes made the earlier stories unintentionally hilarious.
The Daughter of Fu Manchu is a fun read. It was the first true novel in the series and did a good job of freshening up the stale formula. I’m looking forward the next one now, which wasn’t something I was expecting to say. I’m sure some of you want to know whether the evil Dr Fu Manchu himself puts in an appearance but that really would be telling. I feel pretty confident that you’ll enjoy finding out for yourselves.