Wednesday, 28 January 2015

SAX ROHMER - THE YELLOW CLAW (1915)


Synopsis/blurb….

Then--his brows drawn together--he stooped to the body of the murdered woman. Partially raising the fur cloak, he suppressed a gasp of astonishment. "Why! she only wears a silk night-dress, and a pair of suede slippers!"

The elusive Oriental villain known as Mr. King masterminds an insidious plot to hold London's wealthy at his mercy.

His henchmen have already killed one socialite, and more are threatened. Hot on the trail are two of Sax Rohmer's greatest detectives, Gaston Max and Inspector Dunbar, as they undertake a case that threatens to destroy the cream of British society.

About the Author

Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (15 February 1883 – 1 June 1959), better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu.

My 1915 read for Rich Westwood’s monthly meme over at Past Offences blog was I’m sad to say a less than enjoyable affair.

I wasn't exactly spoiled for options to be honest and after establishing that this was available as a freebie on Project Gutenberg that swung it for me over the other possibility – Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh. Doctor Syn was a fictional character I could dimly recall from my childhood. I was quite taken with him particularly as I used to holiday for a week at Cub Camp in St. Mary’s Bay – a stone’s throw from Syn’s stomping ground of the Romney Marshes. Maybe 30 pages into The Yellow Claw and I realised I made the wrong choice!

We had a murder and subsequent investigation into the crime, initially by Scotland Yard and Dunbar before the world famous French detective, Max Gaston arrives on the scene to contribute. Our crime has its roots in the opium trade and the mysterious Oriental, Mr King who Gaston has been pursuing since he smashed an opium den in Paris.

In truth, I found the mystery a bit dull and a bit stop-start though it did have its moments; most notably when Gaston goes undercover and infiltrates the opium den as an addict and devotee of the pipe. I found this section of the narrative quite chilling and claustrophobic.

Rohmer does offer up a couple of interesting characters which did help me turn some pages in between contemplation of whether to lacerate my eyeballs with a cocktail stick or not. Soames, our lowly servant, bed egg and chancer was entertaining; despite his cowardice. He did have my support and I was rooting for him to survive the inevitable conclusion. Helen Cumberly, the doctor’s daughter was the other character of interest who attracted my empathy…..all the rest I was fairly indifferent to.

There was an the odd pointless interlude, notably when Gaston turns up in disguise in the pub and tricks the investigating detectives as they are having a drink, almost shouting ………look at me, look how clever I am – you stupid English buffoons. The odd scene owing a bit too much to coincidence to be credible – Soames in the cinema, when the detectives who are seeking him stroll in and have a conversation at the back of the film-house.

Ending was a bit ambiguous……. does the elusive Mr King escape to fight another day or not?
We did have a lovely bit of romance at the end, as the guy who loses his wife, gets the girl, or at least secures his wife’s tacit deathbed permission to get the girl, but actually it’s the wife giving the girl tacit permission to get the guy.

209 pages long, though at times it appeared to be 2000 pages long.  Not great and I can safely say I’m done with this author. Best thing about it was that I didn't spend any money on it.

A few reviewers over on Goodreads have made mention of racism within the book, with Rohmer taking a swipe at the Chinese or Yellow Peril. I take their point, but it wasn't something that particularly jarred me as I read.

Overall a 2 from 5.

Acquired from Project Gutenberg.

Click here to see what other crime fiction readers found for 1915. I hope they had a better time than me.


17 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear this wasn't your cuppa, Col. Still, it's a period piece, and now you know from experience how you feel about Rohmer's writing...

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    1. Margot - thanks, I have read worse in all honesty, but I didn't enjoy it. I don't think I will be reading FU MANCHU ever!

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  2. I struggled with Rohmer a while ago and vowed never to do so again. Sorry to hear you've had the same experience!

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  3. Should have gone with Doctor Syn, I really enjoyed it, despite it making almost no sense whatsoever.

    I read Rohmer's Fu-Manchu a few months ago and didn't review it. I wasn't very impressed and it was definitely (despite what his defenders say) racist.

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    1. Rich, I so wish I had, but knowing my luck the book wouldn't have arrived until tomorrow if I'd bought it.

      Rohmer much have had a thing about the Chinese then - no Fu-Manchu for me then, or anything else.

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  4. Oh dear, but at least it produced a funny review for the rest of us! A pity it was so awful, 'silk nightdress and suede slippers' would be just the job for Clothes in Books.

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    1. I reckon you've still got time to read this before the end of the month - you are the book-a-day lady after all!
      Silk Nightdress - alert! Suede slippers - alert!
      SIRENS SOUNDING, KLAXONS BLARING......Moira GO GO GO

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  5. Col, Sax Rohmer is one of a handful of authors I haven't read partly because too many people are reading and writing about their work. Talk about prejudice! If I eventually decide to read a Rohmer, it probably won't be this one.

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    1. It had some decent moments, but overall if I never read another by Rohmer it would still be too soon! I can't in all honesty recommend this to anyone.

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  6. I read one of the Fu Manchu books years ago and hated it so am not surprised to see a less than positive review of some of his other work. But reviews of unenjoyed books are fun to read so at least you have provided us with some entertainment :)

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    1. Happy to oblige Bernadette. I am wondering if your wall has dents from the number of books that get launched at it?

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    2. We don't see many hardbacks in Australia these days Col so the worst damage I can do with a paperback is scuff the paint a bit :)

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    3. Ah that's a shame I had visions of a dented wall and a mounting stack of damaged and distressed books, lying groaning beneath...I had envisaged the blog post with suitable photos......

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  7. Glen has a 1916 Fu Manchu book by Rohmer that I am going to try sometime. It should be interesting to see how I like it.

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    1. Hmm, I hope it works better for you than this did for me. If you shout out that its the best thing you've ever read in your life, I still don't think I could be tempted back to him.

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    2. Hmm, I hope it works better for you than this did for me. If you shout out that its the best thing you've ever read in your life, I still don't think I could be tempted back to him.

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