Although I have written on this page before about Sax Rohmer (né Arthur Henry Ward) and his famous succession of thrillers featuring evil Chinese genius Dr. Fu-Manchu, I must admit to not having read many works from that series. By the time I became interested in crime fiction in the late 1970s, the 13 original Fu-Manchu novels--from The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913) to Emperor Fu-Manchu (1959)--weren’t so easy to find as they had once been, and their protagonist was becoming a source of parody. (Peter Sellers’ final film, the 1980 spoof The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu-Manchu, did nothing to revive interest in Rohmer’s master criminal.) I was never provoked to delve further into the character or his creator.
But Titan Books is preparing to re-issue a complete paperback set of the Fu-Manchu novels. A Titan press release reads:
The original adventures of the character who inspired generations of villains, from Ming the Merciless to Dr. No, will now be published in brand-new editions available for the first time in years. They are eerie, violent, sexy, and controversial, involving deadly killers and exotic women against an international backdrop. Fu-Manchu is one of the most iconic characters of the 20th century, and as much a household name as Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.The first two titles being reprinted--and set to appear in U.S. bookshops later this month, or in early March--are also the introductory works in this series: The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (with an introduction by Leslie S. Klinger, editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes) and The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1916). Titan’s media alert doesn’t include this information, but I assume that succeeding releases in the series will reach booksellers in the order of their original publication. They’ll conclude with the issuance of The Wrath of Fu-Manchu (1973), a collection of four stories.
Great Britain-based Titan Publishing has done some remarkable things for the crime-fiction community over the last few years. It’s brought back into print a variety of Sherlock Holmes novels that were not penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, and is in the midst of resurrecting Harry Houdini mysteries. Last year, Titan partnered with paperback house Hard Case Crime in a deal that kept the latter active. And it promises to reissue Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm spy novels, beginning in 2013. Offering Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu to a new generation of avid readers is a further bloody feather in Titan’s cap.
What makes Titan’s resurrection of Rohmer’s books especially interesting, though, is that it has commissioned American artist Ron Lesser to illustrate the fronts of these new Fu-Manchu editions--including the pair shown at the top of this post. Lesser began painting covers for crime-fiction paperbacks back in the 1950s, and though he’s branched out since into Western and historical works, he continues to contribute to our favorite genre. (His art can be spotted on several Hard Case releases: Honey in His Mouth, Quarry in the Middle, and Nobody’s Angel). Lesser was even responsible for at least two classic Fu-Manchu paperback covers--those of The Mask of Fu-Manchu and The Bride of Fu-Manchu, both released by Pyramid Books in 1962, and featured here on the left. (Click to enlarge those images.) The fronts he’s developed for Titan--each topped by an image of the “Devil Doctor” as puppet master--are more uniform in concept than those earlier pieces, but they’re still quite captivating.
If you’re like me--new to the world of Dr. Fu-Manchu and his longtime nemesis, Dennis Nayland Smith--then you might want to take a gander at Titan’s set of Fu-Manchu volumes. To whet your appetite, click here to read an excerpt from The Mystery of Fu-Manchu.
READ MORE: “On Yellow Peril Thrillers,” by Jess Nevins (Violet Books).