Sax Rohmer’s The Drums of Fu Manchu was first serialized in Collier’s from April 1 to June 3, 1939. It was published in book form later that year by Cassel in the UK and Doubleday in the US. The last quarter of the book picks up with Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Bart Kerrigan having witnessed Dr. Fu Manchu’s meeting with German dictator Rudolf Adlon. Der Fuhrer received his final warning from the Si-Fan and was given one hour to leave Venice or else he would face assassination.
Smith and Kerrigan make their way through the villa and come upon the lotus room with the trap floor once more. Inside the room is Ardatha, with a set of keys, on a mission of mercy to save them from their fates. She leads both men out of the house, giving Smith a key to lock the door behind him, but refuses to flee with them.
Sir Denis quickly raises the Venetian police to raid the villa, in the hopes of rescuing Rudolf Adlon, who disappeared the previous night and has still not returned. The raid fails, as the villa is deserted except for the steward, who denies all knowledge of any Asian visitors and informs them the villa is the property of James Brownlow Wilton, an American newspaper tycoon, munitions manufacturer, and Nazi sympathizer (and a fairly transparent analogue of William Randolph Hearst). Mr. Wilton has just left his villa for his yacht, Silver Heels.
The police quickly radio the yacht and a launch overtakes it. Mr. Wilton is aboard with several jet set friends and admits he had entertained Rudolf Adlon as his guest at his villa, stating that he and Adlon parted company at the dock when Adlon left by a yacht owned by Countess Boratov, who was Adlon’s companion. Sir Denis asks Wilton if he has received any warnings from the Si-Fan and the tycoon’s nerve falters. He admits to receiving his death notice and complied with their request, which was to aid in arranging a meeting with Rudolf Adlon at his villa in Venice. When Wilton learns that Adlon may have been assassinated and the tycoon will be complicit in his death, he suffers a heart attack and collapses.
While observing the crew caring for Wilton, Sir Denis begins to suspect the entire yacht is in the pay of the Si-Fan. Carefully warning Kerrigan to dispose of his drink and follow his example, the two men swoon and retire to a cabin to recover. In short order, they hear the sound of gunfire as the police officers who accompanied them are shot and killed. Pretending to be unconscious, they hear the door to their cabin lock and then watch through the porthole as the crew abandon ship. Smith realizes Wilton is dead and he and Kerrigan have been left behind to die, as the yacht has been wired with dynamite.
Thanks to Sir Denis’s quick thinking and resourcefulness, they manage to escape just two minutes before the yacht explodes. From there, the pace quickens considerably as the Home Office rolls out cover stories to the media concerning the deaths by natural causes of both Rudolf Adlon and James Brownlow Wilton. Rohmer errs terribly in gambling on the fact that Adolf Hitler would be assassinated before a Second World War began. The risk inherent in writing a topical novel during a turbulent political climate is one Rohmer was forced to address in the following book.
Back in London, an attempt is made on Sir Denis and Chief Inspector Gallaho while they are riding in a taxi. Both men survive. Sir Denis informs Kerrigan that General Diesler was just assassinated in broad daylight while delivering a eulogy for Rudolf Adlon at the German dictator’s funeral. The assassin was Baron Trenck, who was literally ripped to pieces by the crowd of mourners gathered to pay their respects to the statesman. Sir Denis notes General Diesler was killed by a bullet fired by Professor Jasper’s vacuum charger, leaving no doubt that the Baron was an agent of the Si-Fan.
No sooner has Sir Denis left Kerrigan alone, then the telephone rings and Kerrigan finally hears from Ardatha, who tells him she will pay him a visit in five minutes. When the doorbell rings, it is Dr. Fu Manchu who has arrived on Sir Denis’s doorstep, armed with the Ericksen Ray (first introduced in Rohmer’s 1918 novel, The Golden Scorpion). Kerrigan learns that Fu Manchu has come for Sir Denis’s dossier on Rudolf Adlon’s death. He informs him that Ardatha is unaware he was listening in on their telephone conversation and he intends to witness her clandestine meeting with Kerrigan. He warns Kerrigan that any attempt to act will result in both of their deaths by disintegration via the Ericksen Ray.
Ardatha arrives, bringing news that Dr. Fu Manchu is to be supplanted as the Si-Fan Council of Seven are to elect a new President, following the poor handling of the Rudolf Adlon affair. Suddenly, a police raid descends upon the house and Kerrigan realizes Sir Denis had left him as bait to capture Fu Manchu. Amazingly, the Devil Doctor manages to elude capture, along with Ardatha, in the midst of the raid.
The ending comes at a furious pace, with members of the British Parliament and the President of France receiving warnings from the Si-Fan to avoid a Second World War at all costs or they will face assassination. A second attempt is made on Sir Denis’s life with the vacuum charger. Ardatha breaks free of the Si-Fan at last and is reunited with Kerrigan. Sir Denis’s study is broken into by a murderous pygmy in the middle of the night. Fu Manchu had inadvertently left the Ericksen Ray behind in Sir Denis’s apartment during the police raid and the pygmy was sent to retrieve it. Fearing the pygmy was sent to kill them, Sir Denis uses the disintegration beam to kill the poor man.
The novel ends abruptly with a radio communication from Dr. Fu Manchu, who urges Sir Denis to waste no time in trying to thwart his next move. The novel was published just weeks before the Second World War broke out in Europe. Sax Rohmer was mistaken, sanity did not prevail, but he would be given an opportunity to address the situation in the tenth novel in the series, as we shall see at a later date.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press) and The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012; Black Coat Press). The Triumph of Fu Manchu is scheduled for publication in May 2014.