Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 20, 2018

FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE GREEN EYES OF BAST

The Green Eyes of Bast by Sax Rohmer (1920)


Arthur Henry Ward (or, perhaps, Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward; I'm unclear on the details) was born in Birmingham, England, in 1883.  Somewhere along the line he styled himself as Arthur Sarsfield Ward, and later as the much better known "Sax Rohmer."  After trying his hand at civil service, banking, jouralism, and gas industries, he published his first short story in 1903.  He then went on to a fairly successful career writing songs, monologues, and sketches for the musical theater Some under the Rohmer by-line).  His first book, Pause (1910), was published anonymously and contained various comic sketches.  His second was a ghost-written biography of music hall performer Harry Relph, known as "Little Tich."  Then, in 1912, he began publishing stories about the character who would make Rohmer a household name about an evil scientific genius known as Docior Fu-Manchu (the hyphen was soon eliminated).

Rohmer was all about his image and it is hard to differentiate between the man and his image.  He was interested in foreign lands and many of his tales took place in Egypt or in China.  He was a student of the occult, writing one nonfiction book about it -- The Romance of Sorcery (1914) -- and was a member of The Hermetic Oder of the Golden Dawn and claimed (perhaps spuriously) to be a Rosicrucian.  Yet, he was buried in a Catholic cemetery.  Rohmer may not have been the first to write luirid tales of the "yellow menace," but he certainly popularized the theme.

His writing career spanned until the late 1950s.  He went from writing for popular Victorian magazines to publishing paperback originals for Gold Medal  Along the way he created many characters from Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland-Smith to Fu's female counterpart Sumuru, as well as detectives Red Kerry, Paul Hartley, Gaston Max, and Moris Klaw.

The Green Eyes of Bast is one of Rohmer's standalone thrillers.  Supposedly talented (though he seems a bit dim-witted) reporter Addison is walking in London one night when he meets up with a policeman who has been asked to check if the garage at a certain house has been locked.  Since Addison knows where the house is located and is fairly certain that the house has been empty for a year, he agrees to show the policeman where it is.  The home is indeed unoccupied and the garage is empty, except for a large packing case.  When Addison goes home, he thinks he sees a figure with glowing green eyes outside his house.

The next, his editor sends him to the docks where the body of Sir Marcus Cloverly has been found in a crate.  The crate in which Marcus Cloverly's body was found was the same crate Addison had seen the night before in the garage.  Found with the body was an ancient green Egyptian carving of a cat.

Detective-Inspector Gatton enlists Addison's aid.  First,because Addison was somewhat knowledgeable about Egypt and also because Addison knew the Coverly family. He and Sir Marcus's son Eric had been vying for the affections of beautiful  Isabel Merlin, who had just recently became engaged to Eric Cloverly.

Addison soon finds himself rebuffed in his attempt to speak to Sir Marcus's estranged widow.  A mysterious Egyptian doctor, Damar Greefe, refuses Addison, claiming that Mrs. Coverly is too ill to see anyone.  The plot begins to gain speed.  Addison meets a strange woman with strange green eyes.  Figures and drawings of cat begin to appear.  Eric Coverly is found dead.  Dr. Greefe's large Nubian assistant begins to trail Addison.  The Coverly estate, where the widow was supposed to be, is found to be long unoccupied.  A rocket with poison gas is fired into Addison's room at the local tavern.  A huge fire destroys the Coverly estate as Greefe and the Nubian escape.  The one remaining Coverly, a nephew, is murdered.

Spoiler Alert!  The mysterious woman with the cat-like green eyes is the daughter of Sir Marcus, a hybrid of sorts, part human and part cat, who one month in every year reverts to her feral cat-like nature -- complete with claws and fangs.  Sir Marcus thought the child died at birth, by she was secreted away and raised by Dr. Greefe, who was doing a study on hybrids.  Greefe also invented a virulent poison gas used to kill Sir Marcus and Eric and in the attempt to kill Addison.  In order to keep the cat-woman's existence a secret, the Coverly family had to be eliminated.  In the end, all is solved except the cat-woman escapes, leaving the door open for a sequel that was never written.  End Spoiler Alert.

Ludicrous, yes.  But the story is well-paced and well-presented, ranking it among some of the better novels by Rohmer.  If you like Fu Manchu or any of Rohmer's other characters, this one is for you.

I fear reading this book may have started a Sax Rohmer reading binge.  I have over a dozen of his books hanging around somewhere.

5 comments:

  1. Enjoy your binge. Rohmer was one of my favourite writers when I was young and is sill a somewhat guilty pleasure in that I know he is officially suspect as a writer of "yellow peril" racist literature but I still enjoy his pulpy style.

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  2. I read THE GREEN EYES OF BAST decades ago when Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books enthralled me. I loved those Pyramid paperbacks with their cool covers!

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