Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu, Part Five – “The Zagazig Cryptogram”

“The Zagazig Cryptogram” was the fifth installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on January 26, 1917 (two months after the fourth installment) and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 19 - 21 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.

“The Zagazig Cryptogram” picks up two weeks after the last installment with Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie joining Inspector Weymouth at the River Depot police station to examine a corpse. A Burmese dacoit has been fished out of the Thames along the wharf where the Joy Shop sits. The coroner’s report reveals that the man was strangled rather than drowned as initially suspected. Smith spies in the Times’ personal column a mysterious message has been posted consisting of nothing more than the word Zagazig written seven times in a row. While Petrie dismisses it as nonsense, Smith points out that Zagazig is a town in Lower Egypt. He is convinced that the mysterious code and the murdered dacoit are somehow connected to the Si-Fan.

Later that day, Smith returns to his and Petrie’s room at the New Louvre Hotel. He bustles Petrie out to attend a rendezvous with Weymouth that Petrie did not recall. As they leave, they are met by Monsieur Samarkan, the hotel manager who invites them to a charitable function the following evening. Smith notes they may not be available and repeats to Petrie that they must hurry if they are going to meet Weymouth. Once outside, Smith reveals that he is convinced that the Si-Fan has infiltrated the hotel with a network of spies.


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