Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Hand of Fu Manchu, Part Six – “The House of Hashish”

“The House of Hashish” was the sixth installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on February 17, 1917 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 22 - 26 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 House of Hashish” starts off with a wonderfully atmospheric opening with Dr. Petrie keeping a lonely nighttime vigil in the now abandoned shadow-filled wharf-side Joy Shop with only the sound of lapping waves and the incessant squealing of rats to accompany him. From a window, he watches Nayland Smith approach an old beggar woman and overhears their conversation. The old woman claims to have twisted her ankle and begs Smith to help her to the rooms she keeps in a wharf-side warehouse. Smith obliges and, of course, walks into a ruse as a dacoit leaps upon his back and quickly wraps a cord around his neck and begins strangling him. Fearing he is witnessing his friend’s death and helpless to stop him, Petrie is flabbergasted to see Smith’s apparent twin arrive to the rescue. Smith’s double beats off the dacoit and hurls the man into the Thames.

Regrouping at their apartment, Petrie realizes that Smith’s rescuer was a sailor acquaintance from an earlier episode. The man is noted to bear a strong resemblance to Smith. The old beggar woman was, of course, Zarmi in disguise and unsurprisingly, she managed to escape during the fray. From there, Petrie skips ahead in the narrative to the morning when Smith is summoned to the prison where the Si-Fan’s Greek operative, Samarkan is being held. The prisoner was found dead in his cell. Upon their arrival, it is clear to Smith and Petrie that something is amiss. It transpires that Samarkan’s body is missing. An interrogation of his guard reveals that when Samarkan was first brought in, he expressed that he suffered from heart problems. The guard claims that out of kindness he agreed to retrieve his medication for him. Upon further inquiry, the guard breaks down and confesses to having developed a hashish addiction while stationed in the East. He has known Samarkan and his crowd from the hashish house, the Café de l’Egypte located in Soho. The heart medication was Dr. Fu-Manchu’s catalepsy-inducing serum that Smith and Petrie are familiar with from the past. The first injection convinced prison officials that Samarkan had expired of heart failure and the corrupt guard’s second administration of the serum revived Samarkan enabling him to escape from prison.


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