“The Shrine of the Seven Lamps” was the eighth installment of Sax Rohmer’s The Si-Fan Mysteries. The story was first published in Collier’s on April 21, 1917 and was later expanded to comprise Chapters 30 – 33 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 Shrine of the Seven Lamps” picks up the story five months after the events related in the previous installments. This narrative gap proved fortuitous for those who have helped to keep the characters alive after Sax Rohmer’s passing by affording continuation authors an opportunity to craft additional titles set during the classic early years of the series. Dr. Petrie begins the account having concluded settling the estate of a recently-deceased relative. Petrie is returning to London by rail and happens to share a berth with a beautiful and mysterious Eurasian girl. Everything about his silent traveling companion – her eyes, her skin, her perfume – leave Petrie intoxicated. Tellingly, the woman’s beauty and unique eyes evoke memories of both Petrie’s beloved Karamaneh and the insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu. The overpowering mental force Petrie feels invading his mind and fighting to master his will likewise recalls the Devil Doctor. While Petrie feels an understandable sense of relief when this fascinating woman departs the train with her silent and menacing African servants, the reader is positive that Petrie has not seen the last of her.
While making his way home from the station, Petrie chooses to walk in the light rain rather than hail a taxi. Rohmer does an excellent job describing Petrie’s solitary journey through Hyde Park in the middle of a wet night. The unexpected appearance of a marmoset on the streets of London attracts him to an abandoned house. As unlikely as it may be, Petrie follows the marmoset suspecting it is Dr. Fu-Manchu’s pet. Petrie gains access to the house through a broken basement window. Investigating the darkened home, Petrie smells the intoxicating aroma of burning incense and is startled when a gong sounds seven times.
Unknowingly, Petrie has stumbled upon the secret meeting place of the Si-Fan’s Council of Seven and recognizes that this was the secret location where he was taken when he was abducted by the Mandarin Ki-Ming several months before. Petrie is the undetected witness to a meeting of the Council of Seven and watches in amazement as Ki-Ming and Dr. Fu-Manchu himself take their seats among the group of over twenty Si-Fan members currently in London. The meeting is conducted in French as the common language among the international Council members. Petrie listens as Fu-Manchu explains that Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie are the only obstacles standing in the way of the coming of Our Lady of the Si-Fan and their secret society’s dominance of the West.
Petrie realizes that Fu-Manchu is on trial by the Council of Seven and seeks to utilize the close confidence he claims to enjoy with Our Lady of the Si-Fan to sway their judgment of him. Petrie sees that the fanaticism of a number of the Council members is leading them to look upon Fu-Manchu favorably. The turning point comes when Fu-Manchu reveals Our Lady of the Si-Fan herself seated upon a dais at the Shrine of the Seven Lamps. The Council of Seven prostrate themselves before her beauteous visage. Petrie is shocked to recognize Our Lady as the mysterious Eurasian girl who shared his berth on the train only a short time before. Petrie fears that he has been spotted by an Arab in the audience who has not prostrated himself. Cautiously attempting to back out of the room and escape, he is dumbfounded when the Arab blows a police whistle until Petrie recognizes the Arab as Nayland Smith in disguise. Inspector Weymouth’s men raid the house at Smith’s signal. The lights are cut and the meeting place is plunged in darkness. Dr. Fu-Manchu sneaks out of the room directly in front of Petrie who brandishes his Browning and arrests Fu-Manchu.
The story concludes in a surprising fashion with a breathless Nayland Smith returning home to find Petrie returned from his unpleasant family obligations outside of London. Smith relates the raid on the Si-Fan’s base that resulted in the arrest of over twenty members including the Mandarin Ki-Ming. Regrettably, Smith tells him that Fu-Manchu and a mysterious Eurasian girl escaped during the raid. Smith is startled when Petrie displays a great deal of knowledge of the Eurasian girl that Smith believes to be Fu-Manchu’s daughter and so Petrie explains how he first encountered her on the train and how he came to be present at the raid and subsequently arrested Fu-Manchu. Shamefacedly, Petrie admits that he allowed Fu-Manchu to buy his freedom from him. The bedroom door opens and Karamaneh emerges. Smith recovers his temper quickly and tells Petrie that he understands that Petri’s love for his abducted fiancée was greater than his desire to bring Dr. Fu-Manchu to justice. The long-awaited introduction of Fu-Manchu’s as yet unnamed daughter and the startling arrest of so many members of the Si-Fan are tantalizing signposts for the forthcoming finale to Rohmer’s original Fu-Manchu trilogy which left readers nearly a century ago waiting with breathless anticipation.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). A sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu is coming in early 2012 from Black Coat Press. Also forthcoming is a collection of short stories featuring an original Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and an original hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com