Titan continue their release of Sax Rohmer’s original Fu Manchu stories with these two later adventures. Both books are set in the Cold War tensions that followed World War II. Both books are full length adventures rather than short stories but that’s not all they have in common because, in terms of plot, they’re virtually the same novel.
Each book is based around the McGuffin of a superweapon that could swing the balance of power decisively in favour of one or other of the superpowers. Nayland Smith is, as always, up to his neck in a web of subterfuge and lurking is the background is the evil genius, Doctor Fu Manchu, trying to twist events for his own enigmatic ends.
Doctor Petrie is long gone now, so his endearingly clueless narration is replaced by the third person but centres on the events from the point of view of an innocent dupe caught up in the mystery. In ‘Shadow’ it is Dr Morris Craig and in ‘Re-Enter’, Brian Merrick. Both men are recruited under false pretences and spend most of the story in a state of bemused paranoia as they realise they are being used and that they do not know who they can trust. Throw into the mix double agents, doppelgangers, unlikely disguises and a string of alluring femme fatales, and you have more than enough to keep things rolling along with plenty of likable energy.
The style is still very reliant on extended conversations but, fortunately, not so hysterically excitable as the earlier stories. The most interesting development is the change in the presentation of Fu Manchu himself. The mad Doctor still wants to elevate the Chinese races to be the supreme power on Earth but this ambition has been placed on indefinite hold until greater dangers have been swept away. In this world the greatest threats of all are the rise of Communism and nuclear extinction, and Fu Manchu is fighting just as hard to prevent these evils as our more traditional good guys in the British Secret Service and the CIA.
The apparent immortality of Fu Manchu has been hinted at in other tales but is made explicit in ‘Re-Enter’ when the ailing Doctor is revived again with an Elixir of Life style potion. This is all well and good but it doesn’t explain how Nayland Smith is still going strong. He was middle aged in Victorian London so ought to be well over 100 by the 1950s!
In short, Fu Manchu remains as trashily readable as ever and the mid-20th Century setting helped to reinvigorate the stale formula a bit. Of the two ‘The Shadow of Fu Manchu’ is probably the better novel. ‘Re-Enter’ recycles much of the same material but does have some nice characters and fun set-pieces. You either got bored of these ages ago or love them enough that you’re planning to read them all anyway. If you’re in the second camp then snap them up and knock yourself out!