The Fu Manchu Omnibus: Volume 1 (Fu Manchu Omnibus)

The Fu Manchu Omnibus 1 - Sax Rohmer The first book in the volume, The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, was, I think, the best of the three in this omnibus edition. Introducing the arch-rivals Fu Manchu and Dennis Nayland Smith, together with Smith's sidekick Dr Petrie, in exciting and mysterious fashion. Set in England, the locales are nonetheless exotic (of course, England might be exotic to you anyway, if you don't live here): London's Chinatown, full of dank opium dens next to a dirty River Thames, equally full with strangely mutilated corpses; town houses occupied by larger-than-life hunter/explorers and packed with plundered artefacts; country mansions where invisible death lurks in the shrubbery!The second, The Devil Doctor, more obviously showed that these stories were first serialised in magazines. Enjoyable in an episodic manner, but the plot didn't hang together so well. I can't really remember much of the story already, but it was definitely good reading at the time!The final book, The Si-Fan Mysteries, improves somewhat on the second. Already the incidents are starting to show a certain familiarity, but that's actually part of the charm - you know roughly what you're getting, so it's proper escapist, don't-have-to-think-too-much fun. Some nice atmospheric stuff in this one, and the mandarin Ki-Ming seems like he might actually be a match for the Devil Doctor!I suppose something must be said about charges of racism - firstly, it's foolish to judge the mores of another time by our own. It's most unlikely the books would see print in their present form if first published now, and that's as it should be. At the time, however, the cultural stereotypes were mainstream and Rohmer shouldn't be overly criticised for not pre-empting the general change in outlook that would come many decades later. The stereotypes, when used, are really just a shorthand so that the action can keep going without excessive explanatory narrative. Rohmer's purpose is not a racist one and there are stereotypical stock characters, both good and bad, from east and west in the books. Crucially, the narrator, Dr Petrie, falls in love with and marries an eastern woman, not a likely plot device if racism and white supremacy was the sub-text.Put these things in their historical context and then go with the flow.