Friday, January 14, 2011

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, Part Two: “The Cry of the Nighthawk”

“The Cry of the Nighthawk“ was the second installment of Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu and Company. The story made its debut in Collier’s on December 26, 1914 and was later edited to comprise Chapters 4-6 of the second Fu-Manchu novel, The Devil Doctor first published in 1916 in the UK by Cassell and in the US by McBride & Nast under the variant title, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

Rohmer’s tale bears definite similarities to his first Fu-Manchu story, “The Zayat Kiss” (1912) in that the story opens with Dr. Petrie at work in his principal vocation caring for a patient called Forsyth who has turned up at his residence late that evening with a badly infected hand. Petrie, in true pulp fashion, fails to recognize that Forsyth is the spitting image of Nayland Smith with a moustache.

Finished with his patient, Petrie goes to his study to find Smith with the lights out staring frantically outside just as he had at the opening of “The Zayat Kiss.” Petrie joins him and they watch poor Forsyth walk to his doom under the elms. They hasten outside after hearing the cry of a nighthawk and retrieve Forsyth’s dead body with its mutilated face. Only then does Petrie realize that Forsyth is Smith’s doppelganger and the duo then deduce that the poor man shared the fate intended for Smith.

Nayland Smith examines the crime scene while Petrie examines the dead man’s fatal wounds. Petrie notes unpleasantly Smith’s cold detachment as he focuses upon the task at hand. His inhuman lack of compassion is reflected in the icy quality that his eyes take on. The description recalls the odd, birdlike opaque film that covers Dr. Fu-Manchu’s eyes in moments of concentration and, indeed, Petrie has cause to repeat the description later in the story. This is yet another way that Smith and Fu-Manchu closely mirror one another. The other way, of course, is the sublimation of all sexual desire to allow for total absorption in their respective obsessions.


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