My colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.
Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.
“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward, who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.
Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.
Derleth brought the honorable Chinese doctor back in 1961 for “The Adventure of the Praed Street Irregulars” and again in 1973 for “The Adventure of the Seven Sisters.” The former was set in the mid-1920s and the latter in the early 1920s. Derleth peppered the stories with nods to Rohmer’s fiction with references to the Si-Fan from the Fu Manchu books and the Brotherhood of the Lotus from Rohmer’s 1925 Limehouse thriller, Yellow Shadows.
Following Derleth’s death, Basil Copper was authorized to continue the series. Copper’s efforts were far more serious and closer to Doyle’s originals than the more light-hearted approach Derleth favored.
Unsurprisingly, Copper’s concept of the relationship between Pons and the Devil Doctor likewise was more antagonistic for their sole appearance in the 1979 story, “The Adventure of the Defeated Doctor.” Strangely, a version of this same story was published in 2005 under the title, “The Adventure of the Baffled Baron” with only the ending modified to change the identity of the villain of the piece from the unnamed Devil Doctor to Baron Kroll.
The Solar Pons adventures have a small, but loyal, following and its readers delight in the many amusing and unauthorized appearances by other famed mystery creations. While Derleth’s pastiches make no claim for canonicity, his work is set apart by his passion and affection for his many literary influences. Bob Byrne’s website, http://www.solarpons.com/ is an excellent resource for all things Solar Pons.
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 coming soon from Black Coat Press.