The Mystery of the Golden Skull by Donald E. Keyhoe (first published in Dr. Yen Sin, July/August 1936; reprinted in John P. Gunnison's High Adventure #32 [March 1997], and in The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler, 2017)
The concept of the "Yellow Menace," a xenophobic reaction to the far-East, non-white "Other," took hold in the latter third of the 19th century. A large influx of Orientals into Western countries -- with their decidedly different culture, work ethic, and willingness to work for very low pay -- struck at the core of white anxiety and racial fear. Anti-Asian feelings held a strong grip in many Western countries; the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century added to this negative image. (The Boxers were an anti-colonial , xenophobic, martial arts organization which felt all of china's problems were due to the Western colonies in China. A number of whites were killed but the vast majority of the victims were Chinese Christians.)
In 1898, the British writer and avowed racist M. P. Shiel published The Yellow Danger; or, What Might Happen in the Division of the Chinese Empire Should Estrange All European Countries. The villain of that novel was used as a model for Fu Manchu, the diabolic and ruthless genius determined to take over the world in the stories and novels of "Sax Rohmer" (Arthur Sarsfield Ward). Despite all of his terrifying traps and efforts, Fu Manchu was regularly bested by his arch-enemy Sir Denis Nayland Smith. The popularity of the Fu Manchu books opened a floodgate of popular books, films, plays, and comic books that zeroed in on the Yellow Menace. Many of these tales took place in London's mysterious Limehouse district, where Rohmer and such writers as Thomas Burke and Achmed Abdullah used as a backdrop for their stories. The pulp fiction magazines picked up on this theme and issued a number of short-lived magazines featuring diabolical villains, some of whom were Chinese.
Popular Publications published The Mysterious Wu Fang featuring the titular Fu Manchu clone in the issue dated September 1935. Each of the seven monthly issues featured a full-length novel about Wu Fang written by Robert J. Hogan, who also penned the G-8 and His Battle Aces stories for Popular Publictions (there is good reason to believe that Hogan.wrote not only the lead novel but also the entire contents of each issue). An eigth issue was planned but was never published. Popular immeditely replaced Wu Fang with another oriental, almost interchangable, villain, Dr. Yen Sin; this magazine ran for only three bimonthly issues before the plug was pulled. All three Yen Sin novels were written by Dlnald E. Keyhole, a pulp stalwart in the air adventure magazines. Keyhoe later rose to fame with The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950), which was followed by four more books on UFOs.
The Mystery of the Golden Skull appeared in the second issue of Dr. Yen Sin. Instead of the fog-shrouded streets and alleys of Limehouse, the story takes place in the fog-shrouded streets and alleys of Washington, D.C., and New York Ctiy, where Yen Sin has established a large web of agents, whom he controls with a sophisticated network of radios from a central location. Because of his large organization, Yen Sin is known as the "Invisible Emperor." Yen Sin's protagonist is Michael Traile, an agent representing five different government agencies, which leads Yen Sin to believe that Traile is just one of at least five agents after him. When Traile was two-years-old he suffered a brain injury, which led to a Hindu doctor operating on his brain, removing that portion which controlled sleep. The doctor then taught Traile how to use brief relaxation techniques to refresh himself. Yen Sin believes that Traile's inability to sleep is due to some sort of chemical formula or drug and is anxious to extract its secrets from the agent.
Traile is assisted by his younger friend Eric Gordon, who is as determined as Traile to capture Dr. Yen Sin, but whose loyalties are compromised. Gordon is in love with Sonya Damitri, an unwilling agent of the Invisible Emperor, held in his thrall through threats to her father. Another beautiful and unwilling acomplice is Iris Vaughan; there are hints that sparks may soneday fly between her and Traile. Yen Sin's main assistant is the Eurasian Kang Fu, a sadist who favored torture. Yen Sin also has at his beck and call the Gray Men, each of whom wears a thin gray rubber mask to disquise his features. Spoiler Alert: Most of these Gray Mn are prominent buisness men allied with Yen Sin either through greed or blackmail.
The son of Peter Courtland has been stabbed to death. He evidently had information about his fther and Dr. Yen Sin that he was bringing to the FBI before he ws killed. His body was placed lying down, his head decapitated, and then sewed on the corpse backward. At the head of the body was a small golden skull, the sign of the Chuen Gin Lou -- the Circle of the Golden Skull, "one of the oldest, most dreaded secret societies of China," long thought extinct. The skull was evidently left on the scene by accident (a plot hole that was never really explained). Traile takes the golden skull as minions are sent by Yen Sin to retrieve it.
Traile is aided by DOJ agent Bill Allen and technician Jim Stone. While they are examining the golden skull, some Yen Sin's men attacked millionaire financier Mark Bannister and kill his bodyguard. Bannister was on his way to see Allen to request protection -- he had been receiving dozen of anonymous reports detailing his recent moves. Two other wealthy men, Peter Courtland (father of the first victim) and Merton Cloyd had received similar reports; now both men are missing. Suddenly, there is a scream from the laboratory. Traile and Allen rush there to find the room filled with rainbow-colored smoke. When the smoke clears, they discover the body of Jim Stone, now only a rainbow colored skeleton. and the golden skull missing. In horror they then watch Stone's skeleton crumble into a colored pile of dust.
Somewhere aloong the line they get a clue about the Vare Diamond. a large and priceless gem. I admit that this part is hazy to me and perhaps it was never explained. The owner of the diamond is Harley Kent, a collector of rare jewels. When Traile and Gordon arrive at Kent's home, they find that he has been murdered -- stabbed three time with a hot poker and the image of a skull burnt into his flesh. What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with Traile managing to escape several of Yen Sin's traps, with Traile being captured, then escaping, then captured...yadda, yadda, yadda. Eric Gordon is also captured and, along with Sonya, Damitri, appears to have been killed in an explosion. One importnt scene at Yen Sin's headquaters shows a wall of small dolls (or puppets -- it's not clear) with grotesquely large heads. Spoiler Alert: These heads are actually the shrunken heads of men who Yen Sin has killed, and ech doll is stuffed with the rainbow death dust.
Battles are fought. Bad guys are killed. And Yen Sin, thought to die in a fire, actually survives to fight on in the third and final novel, along with Sonya Damitri and Iris Vaughan.
The entire story is marred by hasty writing and plot holes. Keyhoe was not the writer for this type of menacing tail; he was evidently much better with his air stories featuring, among others, Captain Philip Strange, Dick Knight, the Devildogs, the Vanished Legion, and the Jailbird Flight. Yet there is enough action and oddities to make me give it a hesitant recommendation. It is a fairly entertaining, albeit somewhat frustrating, time-waster.