I enjoy a lot of early twentieth century pulp, but I have no illusions that many of them are… insensitive to certain issues. But nothing quite prepared me for this level of unbridled racism. I wasn’t surprised by the anti-Asian racism (though ‘Yellow League’ was a bit blunt), but it around thirty odd pages in when the protagonist announced his intention to disguise himself as a ‘dago seaman’ that I properly understood that this was some serious Citizens Council stuff.
And spelling ‘clue’ as ‘clew’ everywhere… sure by the second quarter of the twentieth century we’d more or less agreed on that particular spelling? Sure, apparently, we were all unreconstructed racists, but did the white race have no redeeming features? Mr. Sax Rohner, Esquire, suggests that no, no we did not. Way to throw me under bus, dude. Can you try not to be completely terrible? You’re making the Doc Savage book I read look like a joint project of W.E.B. Du Bois and Lao-Tze.
It could also be compared to Riddle of the Sands, which was written to warn England of the dangers posed by Germany ahead of the First World War. This book was similarly written to assure racist whites that their MAGA fever dreams Asian infiltration are not, as rational people believed, the unfortunate side effect of too much Fox News and having skipped their court mandated drug counseling sessions, but a real thing that is actually happening because only racists are smart enough to connect the dots and see that Hugo Chavez killed Kennedy to steal the election for Ho Chi Minh so that President Bernie could hand Fort Knox and the nuclear football over to the severed head of Karl Marx who had been living in a jar with Doris Day and controlling the world from Berkeley, California.
The titular insidious one was, apparently, creating a Pan-Asian power bloc to rival, if not overcome, western powers. Of course, the author missed the rising power of Japan in favor of a more generalized racism, despite the fact the novel’s 1913 publication took place less than a decade after the Japanese had soundly spanked Russian in a brief and decisive war.
The hero, a sort of polymathic super detective, rather like a leaner Doc Savage, has a distressing tendency to occasionally speak in all CAPS like the tweets of a teenage girl or a LOSER ex-president, which, granted, is less offensive than his frequent digressions into anti-Chinese diatribes. His sidekick is a more laid back type, speaking with normal capitalization and engaging in less active racism; more of an armchair bigot, if you will.
The episodic nature makes me suspect it was originally published in serial form in monthlies. It moves quickly, but then so do most adventures from this time. Also in common adventures from this time, a lot of deus ex machinas, which I wouldn’t have minded so much if it weren’t for, you know, the racism. That sort of makes everything feel more irritating.