Monday, February 25, 2013

THE DESTINY OF FU MANCHU


WHO IS THE DAUGHTER OF FU MANCHU?

The Destiny of Fu Manchu, by William Patrick Maynard (Black Coat Press, 2012)

Reviewed by Joe Bonadonna.

 

So who is the daughter of the infamous, the mysterious, the brilliant Fu Manchu? Is it the exquisite Koreani? The exotic Fah lo Suee? The lovely Helga Graumann? Who or what is the destiny of Fu Manchu? And who is “Khunum-Khufu,” and why is he in control of the Si-Fan?

The clues are there, the disguises are many, and the deception is all part of the fun in William Patrick Maynard’s sequel to his wonderful, The Terror of Fu Manchu.

I’ve become a fan of Maynard’s Fu Manchu. More importantly, I’m a fan of William Patrick Maynard. (His short story, “Tulsa Blackie’s last Dive,” is one of the highlights of The Ruby Files, published by Airship27 Productions.) Now, in The Destiny of Fu Manchu, Bill picks up the story years after the events of his first novel, and this time he ups the ante in a tale that is far more complex and insidious than the good doctor’s previous adventure. I’ll do my best to give you a rundown without, hopefully, spoiling any of the fun.

The story opens with a prologue written by good old Petrie himself, the hero/narrator of the aforementioned The Terror of Fu Manchu. This time, however, Petrie has been abducted by Khunum-Khufu and a new faction of the Si-Fan, which plays back to the theft of the Seal of Solomon and the events related in the previous novel. Now, with Petrie being held captive, with Nayland Smith nowhere in sight until much later in the novel, who will take center stage as protagonist, hero and first-person narrator?

Michael Knox, archaeologist.

That’s who.

You may recall Knox, his sister Anna, and their friend, Alexandra Dunhill, from The Terror of Fu Manchu. They were children, then—children in jeopardy. But now they’re all grown up and embroiled in the nefarious doings of Fu Manchu, Khunum-Khufu, and the Si-Fan.

It’s the very eve of World War II, and Neville Chamberlain is working overtime to appease Adolph Hitler. Now, while Fu Manchu is not on stage until much later in the story, his shadow hovers over all like the specter of Death: this time around he wants to save the world from fascists like Hitler and Mussolini, which is the foundation for some very unusual alliances. Chancellor Hitler, being no friend to the Si-Fan, strikes an agreement to support and aid Great Britain in her secret war against the Si-Fan organization of terrorists. At this point in time, the British Government sees the Si-Fan as a much greater and more imminent threat to the world than Nazi Germany, and thus they side with what they feel is the lesser of two evils.

 Politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows.

However, there’s a bit of trouble brewing in the Si-Fan: jealousy, disagreements, intrigue, alliances, betrayals, and fighting among its various factions. It’s a struggle for dominance inside the organization: Fu Manchu is no longer president of the Council of Seven, and what he wants is at odds with certain powerful elements within the Si-Fan. The good doctor’s daughter, and old friend Esteban Milagro, who is now president of the Si-Fan, have their own designs and secret ambitions: they hope to form an alliance with Nazi Germany and use the Nazis in their bid to conquer the world. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Enter Michael Knox, who has information vital to the Si-Fan and their plans for world domination. This information is all tied in with the discovery of the secret burial chamber of the Priests of Thebes, at Luxor. So the Si-Fan goes after Knox. Seems like everyone is after poor Knox! As for Knox himself . . . he at first comes across as an immature, cold, and selfish and self-centered human being—even a coward. But he is never uninteresting, and to watch him grow, to witness his character-arc, is just one of the many treats waiting for you in the pages of this excellent and highly-entertaining novel.

Along the way Knox will join forces with Nayland Smith, Neville Chamberlain, and the British government. He’ll reunite with his sister Anna, and you’ll get to meet her very loyal gorilla, Monkey. And then there’s one of those enjoyable and exciting rides on the Orient Express, famous for being the center of plots, fights and murders. There’s also a foiled attempt to assassinate Chancellor Hitler. There’s even a budding romance. (No, not involving Herr Hitler.) Oh—did I mention there’s a killer dwarf? Yeah, there’s a killer dwarf. Killer dwarfs (dwarves?) are pretty cool, don’t you think?

You’ll also learn that small pox was first discovered by Theban priests, “who spread it throughout the East when Europe was still a land of mindless barbarians.” The Theban priests were also behind the electro-magnetic camera that allows Fu Manchu to project his astral self to any location. I love this stuff! On top of it all, the good doctor plans to spread the small pox culture, what he calls his Pox Romana, bring Europe to the brink of collapse, and rule the world—all within a three-month span of time. As you can guess, Fu Manchu isn’t climbing into a bed of alliance with anyone. He’s his own man and he does his own thing. (I actually found myself sympathizing and rooting for him at times!) Like we used to say—this novel has it all— spills, chills and thrills. It has everything I’ve come to expect from these novels, and Bill Maynard does not fail to deliver the goods.

Once again, Maynard has crafted a smart, well-plotted, and fast-paced novel with great characters and action scenes, striking just the right balance of melodrama and derring-do. There’s heart and humor, wicked cleverness, crisp dialogue, and a helluva lot of imagination packed inside 210 pages. His captures the rhythm of life in the years leading up to WWII, his prose setting the mood, the atmosphere, but never sounding outdated. And the ending? It hits the perfect note, with an “intermezzo”—a letter from Nayland Smith to Petrie, dated June 1,1959 (oddly enough, my Dad’s birthday, though 40 years after the fact) that puts a bitter-sweet coda on the story, and on all the Fu Manchu novels. Yet this also opens the door to a whole new world of opportunities for the criminal mastermind.  

As we all know, Fu Manchu is nigh-on immortal.

You can be sure we haven’t seen or heard the last of him.