Monday, March 12, 2012

A Dust & Corruption Exclusive! William Patrick Maynard's THE DESTINY OF FU MANCHU

And again, Dust & Corruption has been given the chance to be the first-ever review of an upcoming book: Bill Maynard's The Destiny of Fu Manchu.

It's the last golden days of the 30s, with the rumblings of war growing closer and closer. (Chronologically, it's between The Drums of Fu Manchu and The Island of Fu Manchu.) In a prologue, there's a callback to the series' past with Dr. Petrie being abducted and facing a macabre menace in the Great Pyramid. This is classic Rohmerian stuff, combining criminal mischief with borderline supernatural elements in a brooding gothic setting.

Then it's a switch to the main body of the story. Our narrator, archaeologist Michael Knox, is holidaying in Corfu, preparing to be best man at a wedding. It's Greba Eltham (a character introduced in Rohmer's novels) and Spiridon Simos, another archaeologist. Kara Petrie is present as well. Of course, things go way off, and quickly. Soon Simos is dead (a victim of a weapon well-known to us, but unknown to westerners at the time this was set), and Knox is racing off left and right, trying to save his own hide. He starts off on the Orient Express, makes side trips to London and Berlin, before a final confrontation back in Egypt. And along the way we meet characters from previous Fu Manchu novels, including Nayland Smith, Sir Lionel Barton, and Bart Kerrigan, and a few real-life characters, like Adolph Hitler.

One fun thing about this is the character of Michael Knox. He's hardly the Courageous Hero type of narrator who pops up in these books. He a skirt-chaser and something of a coward, and just wants to get out of whatever it is that he's caught himself in the middle of. He has an estranged sister and is not above professional jealousy. He's not quite the poltroon that Harry Flashman is (who is?), but manages to be a breath of fresh air when you realize how cookie-cutter so many of Rohmer's protagonists are.

Some great settings here, too. Corfu is always a welcome backdrop (OK, I once read Mary Stewart's This Rough Magic, and followed it by viewing For Your Eyes Only, and fell in love with Corfu), and Egypt was always one of Rohmer's passions.

Plot-wise, I have to say it bogs down a bit in the middle, but that's minor. Like Bill's last book, it's not as much good vs. evil as it is evil vs. evil vs. good. There's factional struggles in the Si-Fan, with the Devil Doctor heading one and a surprising character heading the other. It also continues a theme from Rohmer's Drums, of Fu Manchu's actions against fascist leaders in Europe. (One difference is that in Drums, the main villainous dictator was called Rudolph Adlon; Maynard prefers not to mince his characters.)

One has a feeling that Michael Knox may show up again; I hope he does. Maynard's really having fun here, and it's great having the Devil Doctor back for more action. It's got a few minor faults, but overall this is a fun, enjoyable bit of pulp delerium. Worth looking out for.

The Destiny of Fu Manchu comes out April 2 from the good folks at Black Coat Press. Go give 'em your business.

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