Book Review: "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu" by Sax Rohmer

Sax Rohmer wrote a book titled "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu" in 1913. It also sells under the name "The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu." From the eponymous character came the name for particular style of beard, but this book was much more. It was a concoction of racism, Sherlock Holmes-esque detective work and mysticism. To be honest, the thing that stood out to me the most was the blatant use of racial slurs and paragraphs dedicated to belittling the Chinese. Nonetheless, it was a decent and even educational read and I intend to continue the Fu Manchu series.

I want to start with the racism because, as I said, it was the most memorable part of the book. I suppose that is only true of a modern reader, but I have read that Rohmer's protagonists were heavily racist even for the time. I won't add snippets of derogatory remarks strewn about by Nayland Smith (a detective of sorts) and even his tamer friend Dr. Petrie. I will suffice it to say that terms like "preservation of the white race" were used copiously to describe the motivation of our Smith and Petrie. However, what I find most interesting is that Dr. Fu Manchu, their Chinese archenemy is endowed with extraordinary intellect and other talents, so we are talking about a peculiar type of racism that does not underestimate the enemy, but rather finds him evil.

I'm not going to get into a plot summary, as I have never come across a faster moving plot in my life. There are frustrating moments, as the "good guys" never seem to get ahead, but they are always on the go. There is always a goal in sight. Instead, I want to talk about the language used by the author. Sax Rohmer has an uncanny grasp of archaic word usage. You can expect some dated language in a book more than a century old, but even contemporary readers must have wondered what some of the words he used meant. For example, he used the long outdated usage of queue to mean a braid at the back of the head at one point. Keep your dictionary open. Better yet, use Google.

You are not going to find depth of character, well described settings or anything of the like in "The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu." What you are going to get is a good old-fashioned detective story peppered with sensationalism and some vocabulary building words. The reading goes fast and you are bound to have a few laughs at the ideas presented in some parts of the novel. It's hard to be offended by something about as influential and a restaurant menu.

Shelly Barclay 

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