But Huey Long? Really? I hear you ask in your usual puzzled voice. Well, a reasonably facsimile of Huey Long. Much to my surprise Rohmer ripped his plot from the headlines circa 1935 and fashioned the only Fu Manchu novel set in the good ol' U S of A, soon to be the writer's adopted home. Just as Sinclair Lewis was inspired by Long's politics to write It Can't Happen Here Rohmer turned social and political critic in writing the eighth adventure of the Asian evildoer. To the possible nightmare of a totalitarian American government Rohmer adds his unique pulp action ingredients resulting in the oddest of books in the series. For after all no one can really overthrow a government without resorting to drug-induced amnesia, assassination by post-hypnotic suggestion and eliminating your enemies with venomous spiders, now can they?
Father Charles Coughlin, a controversial priest with a radio talk show and former supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, took to the airwaves to help boost Long's chief executive aspirations.
In Rohmer's novel Long is transformed into Harvey Bragg; Coughlin becomes Patrick Donegal, the Abbot of the Holy Thorn; and Long's political rival, socialist Norman Thomas, appears as Dr. Orwin Prescott. The similarities are uncanny extending even to Bragg's organization of followers called the League of Good Americans and his catchphrase "America for every man and every man for America" which reflect the motto "Every Man is King" for Long's Share Our Wealth Society. How's that for ripped from the headlines? If Rohmer were alive today would he be a scriptwriter for Law & Order? Imagine how more fun that show would be with plots borrowed from current affairs and then gussied up with exotic poisons derived from tropical plants and zombie-like murderers on the rampage in Manhattan.
|Fu Manchu is everywhere!|
Detective Comics (August 1938)
It's up to Nayland Smith (formerly of Scotland Yard and now a Federal Agent #56 in the employ of the US government) and his Marine captain associate Mark Hepburn to put an end to Fu Manchu's reign of terror and prevent his choice for the presidential nomination from capturing the hearts of America the way Bragg had. But with The League of of Good Americans now in the hands of the Si-Fan and slowly taking over the agriculture and business worlds it may be already too late for the country.
Any attempt to overlook Rohmer's usual race issues will frustrate the reader. Discussions of race are as omnipresent as the myriad cast of Si-Fan agents popping up on every page. Depending almost exclusively on race or nationality characters are labeled as sexual predators ("negroid" and "quadroon"), devious (Jews) and untrustworthy (Italians) to name the most blatant examples. Is it any surprise that Paul Salvaletti, the person elected as Fu Manchu's real presidential hopeful, is of Italian descent? Never mind that someone born in Italy could never be elected to the presidency. This little matter of the Constitution seems to have eluded both the world's most devious master criminal and Rohmer himself. Or is it all just literary license?
The final chapters offer eyebrow raising scenes with Fu Manchu acting nobly and heroic before he once again eludes a face to face capture at the hands of Nayland Smith. There is also a spectacular disaster that may recall the events of 9/11 to some readers. And in the final two paragraphs Sax Rohmer gives us his most brilliant cliffhanger echoing another famous cliffhanger from a classic short story by another writer. From a Huey P. Long clone to surreal methods of murder to the fear of words and rhetoric and surprising atypical behavior from the master villain himself President Fu Manchu is surely one of the most unusual entries in the whole series.