Although only one-quarter of Sax Rohmer’s mystery novels and collected stories feature the insidious Fu Manchu, it is that character who guaranteed Rohmer’s fame and success as a mystery writer. Although he neither invented the genre of the thriller nor created the “Yellow Peril” plot, it was he who combined the two aspects most successfully during the first half of the twentieth century. The stories of Fu Manchu appeared over the course of five decades, which is strong evidence that Rohmer’s creation was popular throughout most of his writing career. Fu Manchu himself underwent a gradual metamorphosis, changing from, in 1912, a self-serving villain to, by the late 1940’s, an anticommunist. The character appeared on radio, in film, and on television. Fu Manchu was also the pattern for many other evil Asian geniuses in popular culture.
Although Rohmer’s major contribution to the writing of mystery fiction is a villain, his detectives do deserve some mention. Fu Manchu’s worthy adversary was usually Sir Denis Nayland Smith or a similar type who had lived in the East and had studied the techniques of Asia. The stories themselves are in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, wherein the brilliant Holmes/Smith matches wits with the equally brilliant Moriarty/Fu Manchu. Similarly, the stories are recorded by an associate, Dr. Petrie, who plays the role of the bumbling Dr. Watson. Over his long writing career Rohmer used many other detectives and villains. None, however, is as memorable as Fu Manchu.