One of the thrills of the late summer was securing a copy of the early 1970s Bookfinger reprint of Sax Rohmer's obscure 1940s novel, Seven Sins. This included the final appearance of Rohmer's long-running French detective character Gaston Max, who made his first bow way back in 1915 in The Yellow Claw (which in some ways is a very peculiar book). The premise of Sins involves high society Egyptian occult highjinks, a locked room murder, and talk of a Nazi spy. But the real fun thus far has been Rohmer's portrait of wartime London and the various characters who cross his pages.
I may write more about the book, but I wanted to post this interesting article about the Bookfinger enterprise. It was this one guy in Brooklyn and seems to have been a DIY operation by and large, but the interest for many Vault readers may be that the reprints occurred through liaising with UK printers and some interaction with Tom Stacey (who goes bankrupt before the conclusion of the article, alas):
Unfortunately Jessica Salmonson's bibliography does not seem to have been transferred to the Web Archive site. I'm curious about those "psychic detective Gees" novels, the work of Jack Mann (pseudonym of E. Charles Vivian)--I think the library where I work may hold some of those. According to a blurb I found online, the Gees yarns include encounters with werewolves, ancient sorcerers, and an Egyptian cat-goddess--sounds right up my street.
This is specifically about the 1964 paperback edition which somehow came out from Brown, Watson--a UK publisher whose suggested floruit, according to the great Search Engine on the Cloud, is 1959-1978. They became known in the 70s for publishing annuals for various comic book and TV tie-in threads. A publisher with the same name which started up in 1980 and puts out kids' books seems to be a different outfit altogether.
Panther put out all the other Sixties pb editions of Rohmer's titles I've seen listed, so not sure why Brown, Watson did this one.
Seven Sins is proving to be a great ride--less formulaic and more character-driven than Rohmer's Fu and Sumuru books.
A brief follow-up about Seven Sins, which I finished reading during the first week of September (if memory serves). The impression I had somehow gotten that this was an "occult thriller" was by and large a misapprehension. The character of Lord Marcus who has an elaborately equipped Temple to Isis in his Mayfair home is mostly an elaborate bit of introductory window-dressing, to provide Collier's with the kind of subject matter for the exotic lead-off full page illustration that readers of Rohmer's work had come to expect. Lord Marcus reappears occasionally in the main body of the book, but his role in the plot is marginal at best.
The real story has to do with an illicit roulette ring somehow involved with Nazi espionage. Well-heeled, well-disguised agents gather intelligence from their unwitting upper-crust dupes in various fashionable homes and haunts under the guise of providing gambling facilities and other goodies. The most horrific touches, for this reader, were the notes about the luxurious comestibles and beverages consumed by wealthy patrons at these parties during a time when everyone else in the country was subjected to the compulsory austerities of rationing and the non-availability of many staple items. (Mention is made of wheat bread baked for one of the Egyptian rites and a police officer asks, "now where did they get wheat?" A simple question, but it says so much about those times).
For this reader, the best parts of the book were passing observations of everyday life in the city as it was in wartime, as in this description of a late-night/early-morning coffee-stall set up "in part of the shell of a once popular West End public house, which had fallen an early victim to German bombs":
After a night of intermittent rain, sunrise had produced a steamy mist, almost meriting the description of fog. Visibility was reduced to a few yards, and Sawby's stall with its bright urns and lights, around which a cheerful rattle of cups prevailed, formed a welcome oasis. In once orderly Bond Street hard by, a street which had come to resemble the lower jaw of a giant following extensive dental operations (and extraction by bomb is by no means painless dentistry), early traffic was just beginning to stir. But war-time London that morning, much of it still wearing its black-out night cap, possessed a sort of hollow, echoing quality, vaultlike, cavernesque and alien. The soul of a city is its people; and Mayfair had lost its soul.
The 1972 Bookfinger edition is such a dignified object, very nearly put together (the book, like others from this firm, was actually printed in the UK, but place of publication was given as New York). A colophon page at the end of the volume reads: "In Memoriam--Sax Rohmer, 1883-1959." This was also present in Bookfinger's editions of Wulfheim and The Moon is Red, which I have since managed to acquire but not yet read.
I finished reading Sax Rohmer's last stand-alone novel, The Moon is Red, about a week ago. I enjoyed it more than did the Rohmer scholar (and official author of the continuation of the Fu Manchu series) William Maynard, who wrote about the book in this blog entry. It should be noted that Mr. Maynard reveals some major spoilers about the story here:
I think part of my enjoyment may have been in the beautiful presentation of the book in the Bookfinger edition I was fortunate enough to find at a reasonable price via an online vendor. But another facet that held my interest was the depiction and relationship between two of the lead characters, Laurel Wilding and Gene Marat--the latter, according to Mr. Maynard, was based at least in part on Rohmer's brother-in-law. It was interesting to learn about that.
This week I'm reading Hangover House (not to be confused with Hangover Square). Unlike The Moon is Red which I feel confident was all Rohmer's own work, my feeling about Hangover House thus far (I am about six chapters in, now) is that some substantial parts of it seem to have been written by Rohmer's wife and their protege, Cay van Ash (who seems to have been living with them for at least part of the 1940s). There are a number of specific details that just do not sound like Sax Rohmer. The most blatant is a passage describing some ancient Egyptian antiquities where the actual writer seems confused about the identities of certain important ancient Deities--I do not think Rohmer would ever have made that mistake.
EDIT: Rohmer apparently dedicated the novel to his wife who he said helped him write it, so he acknowledged that publicly. The US paperback edition doesn't seem to include that dedication.
I've read that when his wife and protege wrote based on his notes and outlines, he always went over the text to make sure it was all good. So I wonder if he was actually ill for a period in the late 1940s and unable to work through this particular novel, which was as usual initially serialized in Collier's mag in the US.