Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu, Part Two – “Zarmi of the Joy Shop”

“Zarmi of the Joy Shop” was the second installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on May 13, 1916 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 5 - 9 of the third Fu-Manchu novel, The Si-Fan Mysteries first published in 1917 by Cassell in the UK and by McBride & Nast in the US under the variant title, The Hand of Fu Manchu. The US book title marks the first time that the hyphen was dropped from the character’s name, although it was retained within the text.

“Zarmi of the Joy Shop” gets off to a cracking start with Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie bringing the purloined brass box belonging to the Si-Fan to Inspector Weymouth’s office. The Inspector introduces them to Detective Sergeant Fletcher who patrols Limehouse. Fletcher tells them of John Ki’s Joy Shop, a gambling house of ill repute which has recently had two new arrivals: a beautiful Eurasian woman called Zarmi and a mysterious crippled man who walks on crutches who has excited much interest among the gambling house’s denizens. Weymouth associated Smith and Petrie’s mysterious ‘man with a limp” with Fletcher’s mysterious cripple. Zarmi has recently approached Fletcher, who was working undercover, to find another “big strong feller” to help her with a job. Smith agrees to accompany Fletcher to the Joy Shop in disguise the following night after depositing the brass box in a bank safe in the morning.

A sentimental Petrie bids Smith farewell at the New Louvre Hotel where the dreary November weather turns Petrie’s mind to Cairo where he left his fiancée, Karamaneh behind. Rohmer does a wonderful job contrasting the gray London so familiar to his readers with the paradise of sunny Cairo with its domes and minarets that recall Burton’s translation of 1001 Arabian Nights that was so close to the author’s heart. Petrie spends the day visiting a colleague, Dr. Murray, who purchased Petrie’s old practice from him after he moved to Cairo to prepare for his wedding with Karamaneh. Upon his return in the evening, he learns that Smith failed to turn up at Weymouth’s office and failed to deposit the brass box at the bank in the morning. Only then does Petrie recall that the taxi Smith stepped in was driven by an effeminate-looking dark-skinned man. He immediately deduces that Smith has fallen into the hands of the Si-Fan.

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