Friday, March 18, 2011

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, Part Eight – “The Fiery Hand”

“The Fiery Hand” was the eighth installment of Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu and Company. The story was first published in Collier’s on September 25, 1915 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 24-26 of the second Fu-Manchu novel, The Devil Doctor first published in the UK in 1916 by Cassell and in the US by McBride & Nast under the variant title, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu.

This serves as Rohmer’s variation on the haunted house story and mines the same territory as countless Sherlock Holmes pastiches where the reader is assured that the detective will arrive at a rational explanation because the other characters are convinced that the mysterious goings-on must be of supernatural origin from the start. That said, the story is an excellent one and finds Rohmer in fine form.

Inspector Weymouth calls on Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie to enlist Smith’s aid in investigating the Gables, a property in Hampstead that appears to have been haunted for the past two years. The previous owners, a Quaker family who lived at the house for over forty years sold it after manifestations of a fiery hand holding a flaming dagger appeared. They said nothing of the incident at the time for fear of not being able to sell the property.

The second owner was a retired Colombian tea farmer named Maddison who lived there for six months. During that time, he and his servants were disturbed by shadowy visitors who peered over their beds at night muttering and by the incessant tinkling of astral bells. Several of the servants quit in a panic. Finally, Mr. Maddison was discovered one night dead in his armchair having died of fright.

A few weeks prior the house was leased to a French businessman named Lejay. After only two nights in the house, his servant ran screaming into the night after seeing a fiery hand clutching a flaming dagger that appeared in mid-air. Monsieur Lejay was later found dead on the front steps. His heart had given out from shock.


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