Contrary to what I wrote on Monday, November 9th, it was not until this morning I was able to crack open my latest treasure, an old 1961 edition of Sax Rohmer's The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
Carefully, I took the book from its protective cover and when I opened it, from its slightly yellowed pages came that aroma that one finds only from old paperbacks. To me, it is the alchemical essence that foreshadows a journey to another world.
With the opening sentence, I was immediately transported to London in the year 1916 to an England oddly ignorant of the first World War, but involved in another terrible conflict with an evil mastermind.
It opens in the study of Dr. James Petrie entertaining the Rev. J. D. Eltham:
The refined and sensitive face of the clergy-man offered no indication of the truculent character of the man. His scanty fair hair, already gray over the temples, was silken and soft-looking; in appearance he was indeed a typical English churchman; but in China he had been known as "the fighting missionary," and had fully deserved the title. In fact, this peaceful-looking gentleman had directly brought about the Boxer Risings!Within 16 pages, I am running with Petrie and Commissioner Nayland Smith as they race to free the good Reverend from the clutches of kidnappers working for Dr. Fu-Manchu! Commandeering a car, they end up in a fog-enshrouded cul de sac along the Thames contemplating how they are going to free the clergyman before he is murdered.
For Rohmer to transport me to 1916 London with its sights and aromas is in itself a miracle. As a writer, dare I hope for less for my own readers?
You can read The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu for free here.
The Fu-Manchu series will never be great literature, but they make for incredible stories. Rohmer's work is neither safe nor sanitized so today's delicate little snowflakes will not be able to handle the politically incorrect worldview of a long-dead England, but for the mature who can overlook the errors of an archaic, unchangeable past, the Fu-Manchu series guarantees a fun ride.