The racism is so bad, yet the story moves so effortlessly, actively, and thrillingly. Sufficiently exciting that, while you can hardly escape the racism (though it seems laughably transparent; however, as a white man, it is, perhaps, too easy for me to laugh, since I am not the target), you mostly overlook the question of why, if this the genius agent provocateur and herald of a new, global Chinese empire, Fu-Manchu, is so very dangerous, the bold, the brave, the fearless agent of empire (the good kind), Nayland Smith, keeps relying on the narrator, Dr. Petrie (an old college chum, if I remember from the first book)? Surely there is some proto-James Bond type he could rely on?
It’s really a series of short adventures, with Smith and Petrie (don’t say ‘dish!’) constantly running into people with knowledge of stuff happening in China (including a clergyman who was corresponding with someone whose name escapes, but which was remarkably close to Sun-Yat-Sen; I’m not sure if that was deliberate or if the redoubtable author was simply throwing together three letter sounds that combined to sound vaguely like some kind of transliteration from the Chinese). At least the hero and narrator falls in love with someone vaguely Eastern, but more of an orientalist, harem-fantasy than a real person and, despite being from exotic lands, apparently, surprising fair (read: white).
Why do I read books like this? I don’t know, except that I have a great love for these early twentieth century adventures that read so briskly and engagingly. I also feel guilt, though not enough, it seems, at things like the strange race of dog men that are somehow ‘Semitic’ (really, Mr. Sax Rohmer?).