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Sax Rohmer Locked Room Titles

sax rohmerArthur Henry Ward (1883 – 1959), far better known as Sax Rohmer, was an extremely prolific English novelist. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr Fu Manchu. He also wrote locked room mysteries under the pseudonym Sarsfield Ward.

Born in Birmingham to a working-class family, Arthur Ward was a civil servant before concentrating on writing full-time. He also worked as a poet, songwriter, and comedy sketch writer for Music hall performers before creating the Sax Rohmer persona and pursuing a career writing weird fiction.

Like his contemporaries Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, Rohmer claimed membership in one of the factions of the qabbalistic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Rohmer also claimed ties to the Rosicrucians, but the validity of his claims has been questioned. His doctor and family friend, Dr R. Watson Councell may have been his only legitimate connection to such organisations.

His first published work came in 1903, when the short story “The Mysterious Mummy” was sold to Pearson’s Weekly. Rohmer’s main literary influences seem to have been Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and M. P. Shiel. He gradually transitioned from writing for music hall performers to concentrating on short stories and serials for magazine publication. In 1909 he married Rose Elizabeth Knox and published his first book ‘Pause!’ anonymously in 1910.

After penning ‘Little Tich’ in 1911 (as ghostwriter for the famous music hall entertainer of the same name: Little Tich) he issued the first Fu Manchu novel, ‘The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu’, serialised from October 1912 to June 1913. It was an immediate success, with its fast-paced story of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie facing the worldwide conspiracy of the ‘Yellow Peril’. The Fu Manchu stories, together with his more conventional detective series characters—Paul Harley, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Morris Klaw (an occult detective), and The Crime Magnet, made Rohmer one of the most successful and well-paid authors of the 1920s and 1930s.

The first three Fu Manchu books were published in the four years 1913–17; but it was not until 1931 (some fourteen years after the third book in the series) that Rohmer returned to the series with ‘The Daughter of Fu Manchu’. The reason for the long interval was that Rohmer wanted to be well and truly done with the series, much as Arthur Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes. The first three books had been successfully filmed by Stoll in the twenties as a pair of serials. In 1928, Rohmer bowed to pressure and agreed to write a fourth novel as a serial for Collier’s. Paramount had the first Warner Oland picture gearing up for production and the daily newspaper strip based on the series was in the offing. There was public demand for the character’s return.

Rohmer’s first effort at reviving the Fu Manchu property was eventually reworked as ‘The Emperor of America’. The original intent had been for the head of the organisation to be Fu Manchu’s daughter. He kept Head Centre as a female criminal mastermind to combat Drake Roscoe, but was very unhappy with the book both as it started and in its finished form. He would later return to Drake Roscoe and his female supervillain for the Sumuru series. In the meantime, he tried again to focus his energies on what was first titled ‘Fu Manchu’s Daughter’ for Collier’s in 1930, but with an older (now knighted) Nayland Smith as the protagonist once more. The results were infinitely better and jump-started the series in the process.

In the 28 years from 1931 to 1959, Rohmer added no fewer than 10 new books to the Fu Manchu series, meaning the series totals thirteen books in all (not counting the posthumous collection The Wrath of Fu Manchu). The Fu Manchu series drew much criticism from the Chinese government and Chinese communities in the US for what was seen as negative ethnic stereotyping. Sociologist Virginia Berridge claims Rohmer created a false image of London’s Chinese community as crime-ridden, further claiming that the Limehouse Chinese were one of the most law-abiding of London’s ethnic minorities. Critic Jack Adrian notes that “Rohmer’s own racism was careless and casual, a mere symptom of his times”. Rohmer was also friends with escape artist Harry Houdini, who wrote to him in praise of Rohmer’s ‘The Romance of Sorcery’. Rohmer based his mystery-solving magician character, Bazarada, on Houdini.

‘The Orchard of Tears’ is an odd book in the context of Sax Rohmer’s other work. There are no oriental villains or exotic locations; rather, there are gentle rabbits and lambs in pastoral settings and a great deal of philosophical musing. As much as he enjoyed Fu Manchu – and the notoriety and income the character provided – Rohmer had other interests and a markedly serious side. The departure from his expected subject matter is plainly signalled by the book’s dedication: “To the slaves of the pomegranate, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, who drink at the fountain of life, this chalice is offered as a loving-cup”.

In ‘The Quest of the Sacred Slipper’ (1919) terror comes to Britain when a self-centered archaeologist unearths one of Islam’s holiest relics – the sacred slipper of the prophet Mohammed. Until it is returned to its rightful people, the implacable Hassan of Aleppo vows his reign of death and destruction shall not cease. Behind these inhuman outrages is a secret group of fanatics. Not even the best men of Scotland Yard seem able to apprehend them.

Tales of Chinatown (1922) is a collection of ten stories published in hardcover by Cassell and Doubleday, Page and Company in 1922. All the stories first appeared in magazine format. This collection includes a story considered one of his best and also anthologised many times; ‘Tcheriapin’. The story ‘The Hand of the Mandarin Quong’ was rewritten for this; first published as ‘Hand of the White Sheikh’ Rohmer changed the setting to a Chinatown background and published it as ‘The Mystery of the Shriveled Hand’, the title then changed for this collection.

Rohmer also wrote several novels of supernatural horror, including ‘Brood of the Witch-Queen’, described by Adrian as “Rohmer’s masterpiece”. Rohmer was very poor at managing his wealth, however, and made several disastrous business decisions that hampered him throughout his career. His final success came with a series of novels featuring a female variation on Fu Manchu, Sumuru. The Sumuru series consists of five books. Rohmer also wrote numerous short stories; ‘The Master of Hollow Grange’ (1920), is a homage to M. R. James’ story ‘Lost Hearts’, featuring a mad scientist who preys on children.

Rohmer’s work was banned in Nazi Germany, causing Rohmer to complain that he could not understand such censorship, stating “my stories are not inimical to Nazi ideals”.

After World War II, Rohmer and his wife moved to New York, only returning to London shortly before his death. He died in 1959, ironically due to an outbreak of influenza (“Asian Flu”).

His wife, Rose Elizabeth (Knox) Ward (1886–1979), published her own mystery novel, ‘Bianca in Black’, in 1958 under the pen name Elizabeth Sax Rohmer. Some editions of the book mistakenly credit her as Rohmer’s daughter. She and Cay Van Ash (1918–1994), her husband’s former assistant, wrote a biography of the author, Master of Villainy, published in 1972.

Edited from Wikipedia

More on Fu Manchu

Sax Rohmer Locked Room Novels

Fu ManchuThe Mystery of Fu Manchu (1913)
AKA: The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu (US)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Nayland Smith

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Note: Introducing Dr. Fu-Manchu!

London, 1913 – the era of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and the Invisible Man. A time of shadows, secret societies, and dens filled with opium addicts. Into this world comes the most fantastic emissary of evil society has ever known… Dr. Fu-Manchu.

Denis Nayland Smith pursues his quarry across continents and through the back alleys of London. As victim after victim disappears at the hands of the Devil Doctor, Smith must unravel his murderous plot before it is too late.

Written in a novel format, this volume actually collates various short stories that had been published the preceding year. 

More on The Mystery of Fu Manchu

quest sacred slipperThe Quest of The Sacred Slipper (1919)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Inspector Bristol

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Note: Another novel format that collates various short stories!

The main locked room interest is focused on ‘The Oblong Box’ where Inspector Bristol investigates an odd case of decapitation! Includes:

The Phantom Scimitar
The Girl With The Violet Eyes
“Hassan Of Aleppo”
The Oblong Box
The Occupant Of The Box
The Ring Of The Prophet
First Attempt On The Safe
The Violet Eyes Again
Second Attempt On The Safe
At The British Antiquarian Museum
The Hole In The Blind
The Hashishin Watch
The White Beam
A Scream In The Night
A Shrivelled Hand
The Dwarf
The Woman With The Basket
What Came Through The Window
A Rapping At Midnight
The Golden Pavilion
The Black Tube
The Light Of El-Medineh
The Three Messages
I Keep The Appointment
The Watcher In Bank Chambers
The Strong-Room
The Slipper
We Meet Mr. Isaacs
At The Gate House
The Pool Of Death
Six Gray Patches
How We Were Reenforced
My Last Meeting With Hassan Of Aleppo

Daughter Fu ManchuDaughter of Fu Manchu (1931)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Nayland Smith

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Note: The deadly Fah Lo Suee!

Across the sands of Egypt, Nayland Smith pursues Fah Lo Suee, the deadly daughter of Fu-Manchu. Possessed of all her father’s subversive secrets and driven by his unquenchable thirst for power, she has pillaged the tomb of the Black Ape for the key to its ancient mysteries – and therefore leadership over all the evil cults of the East. No one can stop her – except perhaps Fu-Manchu himself!

drums fu manchuThe Drums of Fu Manchu (1939)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Nayland Smith

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Note: Fu Manchu takes over Europe?

Immediately before World War II, Fu-Manchu decides to kill or control the world’s war-mongering dictators, to pave the way for his own plans. The rapid-fire action moves from London to Venice to Paris, and involves various arcane and scientific forms of torture and death.

BONUS FEATURE: “The Mark of the Monkey”, the second of three “lost adventures of Nayland Smith.” It appeared in Collier’s in 1931, then in the short story collection Tales of East and West.

Moon RedThe Moon is Red (1954) 
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Inspector Ryder

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Note: Scotland Yard in Florida?

From the first edition dust jacket:

Florida, for all it’s wealth and sunshine, lay under a shadow – the long shadow of murder. Who or what was responsible for the deaths of two women, savage reminders of identical killings elsewhere? In each case the crime appeared motiveless and committed by other than human agency.

With such handicaps, Ryder of Scotland Yard found the problem a baffling one. Nor were the players in this strange drama any less complex. An internationally renowned actor whose past was a secret he hated to reveal, a young Jamaican millionaire with Casanova tendencies, the lovely Laurel Wilding, and above all, Goliath, as treacherous as the swamp in which he roamed – all combined to make his task a hopeless one.

When the end came, it was more terrifying and startling than Ryder had imagined in his wildest moments. For the thing which his skill and patience had unearthed could just not be believed.
Once again Sax Rohmer, the creator of the infamous Dr.Fu Manchu and the notorious Sumuru, grips the readers with a macabre tale of mystery and imagination.

Sax Rohmer Locked Room Short Stories

mysterious mummyThe Mysterious Mummy (1903)
Author: as Sarsfield Ward
Detective: No detective

Collection: Pearson’s Weekly Christmas Xtra, 1903; Wikisource

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ebook  Wikisource

Note: Mummy needs a vase?

In the Great Portland Square Museum, the irreplaceable Rienzi Vase has gone missing. Is this theft tied to stories of a mysterious mummy that appeared out of nowhere and disappeared back into the darkness on the same night?

green spiderThe Green Spider (1904) 
Author: as Sarsfield Ward
Detective: Harborne

Collection: Pearson’s Magazine, October 1904; The Green Spider: and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense

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Note: Great discovery?

‘The Green Spider’ is a Rohmer short story about a strange creature, a professor, and an important secret that could transform science.

Art ImpossibleThe Death of Cyrus Pettigrew (1909) 
Author: Sarsfield Ward
Detective: Dr. Saxham

Collection: Murder Impossible, Jack Adrian & Robert Adey 

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Note: The Long Commute?

A bit of a Sherlock clone! Dr. Saxham and his narrator/companion Barton investigate the case of Cyrus Pettigrew who has been poisoned while returning home on the evening train.  They soon discover that his seemingly virtuous niece is actually a morphine addict and the primary suspect of Scotland Yard.

Severac BablonA White Orchid (1914)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Inspector Sheffield

Collection: The Sins of Séverac Bablon

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Note: A Jewish Robin Hood is loose in London?

“A man at once wealthy and generous? An improbable being — but not impossible!” Standing among the milling party-goers, Sir Richard observes this to his millionaire host — having just read news about Severac Bablon, a mysterious figure who has given monetary assistance to 2,000 men suddenly thrown into unemployment, in Canada. Moments later, a hush falls over this assemblage of London’s wealthiest and smartest — for they find themselves surrounded by a ring of identically dressed men — with handguns drawn! In “The Sins of Severac Bablon,” Sax Rohmer, creator of the sinister villain Fu Manchu, unveils a case to baffle Chief Inspector Sheffield of Scotland Yard. 

A White Orchid is one of the chapter/stories woven into this hybrid novel/collection.

low fennelThe Blue Monkey (1920)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Mr. East

Collection: The Haunting of Low Fennel

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Note: Did the blue monkey come to life?

Mr. East a secret service agent, on a much needed vacation, is dragged into the vicious murder of a neighbour, apparently struck down while walking home with his latest purchase, a sacred oriental blue porcelain ape.

dream detective

Case of The Blue Rajah (1920)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Morris Klaw
Collection: The Dream Detective

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Note: The Blue Rajah impossibly disappears!

Moris Klaw is a gifted eccentric, the proprietor of a ramshackle antique shop in Wapping, and an expert in the legends and lore of valuable historical objects – a good man to know when valuable objects suddenly disappear.  In this instance, a famous diamond with a notorious past disappears from inside a sealed room!

dream detectiveCase of The Ivory Statue (1920)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Morris Klaw
Collection: The Dream Detective

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Note: Too big to disappear?

Moris Klaw is a gifted eccentric, the proprietor of a ramshackle antique shop in Wapping, and an expert in the legends and lore of valuable historical objects – a good man to know when valuable objects suddenly disappear. In this instance, a life sized ivory statue disappears from a locked studio under constant watch!

dream detectiveCase of The Tragedies in the Greek Room (1920)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Morris Klaw
Collection: The Dream Detective

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Note: Murder inside a locked museum!

Moris Klaw is a gifted eccentric, the proprietor of a ramshackle antique shop in Wapping, and an expert in the legends and lore of valuable historical objects – a good man to know when valuable objects suddenly disappear. In this instance, the victim is poisoned inside a locked museum!

east&westThe Squirrel Man (1932)
Author: Sax Rohmer
Detective: Heatherley
Collection: Tales of East and West

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Available only in used hardcover editions. This story is only in the 1932 UK edition of this collection!


Note: Almost a lost story!

The victim is shot to death inside a locked  room under constant observation.

Complete Sax Rohmer Bibliography

Locked Room 101: The Masters

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