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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Bat Wing by Sax Rohmer

While searching for possibilities for Carl's most recent R.I.P. Challenge, I came across Bat Wing by Sax Rohmer.  Who?  Never heard of him.

I ordered the Kindle version (.99) and decided to see what I thought.  Bat Wing is reminiscent of Wilkie Collins in style, with a nod to Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin and to A.C. Doyle's Holmes and Watson.  Very old-fashioned and late Victorian in many ways, and certainly politically incorrect; I found myself smiling slightly as I read, recognizing the various elements of novels and stories from another era.

Rohmer throws out some red herrings, introduces a little romance, some unusual characters, and a little exoticism.  He is also occasionally repetitive.  While laying the clues to the supernatural and voodoo, Rohmer keeps Harley and Knox (Rohmer's version of Holmes and Watson) on their toes, letting them struggle, knowing that information is being deliberately withheld from them.  **my version reads Paul Harley and some reviews reference him as Harley, others as Harvey

I really like the old book covers!

When I finished, I wondered about the author, who was evidently extremely prolific.  I discovered, to my surprise, that Sax Rohmer was the creator of the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu.  Many of you will be familiar with Fu Manchu  through name recognition, but if you are like me, not really knowledgeable about the character.  I knew there were old movies featuring Fu Manchu, but I'd never seen one.  I think I'd confused Fu Manchu with Charlie Chan.

Any way, Rohmer was an eccentric and imaginative fellow and a member of  The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as were William Butler Yeats, E. Nesbit, Bram Stoker, and...Alistair Crowley.  That fact, alone, makes Rohmer interesting.

From an article by Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen that relates a story of Rohmer's Fu Manchu character:

"In 1909 he married Rose Elizabeth Knox, whose father had been a well-known comedian in his youth. When Rose Knox met Rohmer she was performing in a juggling act with her brother Bill. For almost two years they kept the marriage a secret from Rose's family - she lived with her sister and Rohmer with his father. Rose was psychic and Rohmer himself seemed to attract metaphysical phenomena - according to a story, he consulted with his wife a ouija board as to how he could best make a living. The answer was 'C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N'.

He certainly had great success with his "C-H-I-N-A-M-A-N." beginning with radio shows in the twenties featuring Fu Manchu:
Also in  the 1920's, Harry Agar Lyons played the evil doctor in the first films;
Boris Karlof and Myrna Loy appeared in a 1930's version.  Christopher Lee became a 1960's incarnation, and Peter Sellers and Helen Mirren appeared in a 1980's comedic installment, The Fiendish Plot of Fu Machu.

I've just added a 1940's version to my Netflix que.   I wish they had the 1920's and 1930's films available, but they don't.

So, yes, I got completely off-track on my review because, as usual, a little research (how I love the Internet!) can reveal so much more than one expects.  
Final evaluation of Bat Wing:  It isn't a modern novel, but at the time of its first publication in 1921, it was sensational and was the first of several novels featuring Paul Harley and his sidekick and amanuensis, Knox.  I found it great fun!  From what I've read, although his name is barely remembered now, his work was very influential to other writers at the time.

The next in the Harley/Knox series is Fire-Tongue.  Sounds like a great follow-up as it owes its inspiration to his friend Harry Houdini.

Fiction.  Gothic/Mystery/Suspense.  original published in 1921.  print version 220 pages.


  1. Great review. I'm a fan of the older book covers as well, they are wonderful.

  2. The book covers can have a big influence in my desire to read a book!

  3. I read a Fu Man Chu book once ages ago so don't really remember it. But I used to watch the old b/w movies on TV when I was a kid. Bat Wing sounds like fun!

  4. Jenclair, I agree, that's a fantastic cover for Batwing!

  5. You're posting about the time frame I like best in literature. Busily taking notes!

  6. Nicola - Bat Wing was a great read for this challenge, and the Fu Man Chu books would work as well!

    Katherine - :) Love the artwork on all of the old covers. They would be great framed.

    Bybee - I love the old-fashioned Gothic that tells about the time period as much as the story!