The Quest of the Sacred Slipper by "Sax Rohmer" (Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) (first book publication 1914; first published in eight parts in Novel Magazine, September 1913 (#102) to April 1914 (#109); also published in eight parts in Short Stories, November 1913 to June 1914 [with the first three parts titled Hasan of Aleppo -- The Quest of the Sacred Slipper and the remaing parts titled The Quest of the Sacred Slipper], and in eight weekly parts in The P. M., February 2, 1924 to March 22, 1924 under the title The Sacred Quest, and in eight weekly parts in Pearson's Weekly, August 28, 1926 to October 16, 1926)
Sax Rohmer, the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu and the best-selling author of many novels of mystery and horror, has always been (to me, at least) a hit-and-miss author. Sadly, The Quest of the Sacred Slipper is a miss.
London reporter Cavanagh (does he have a first name? Perhaps not.) is headed back home from the Middle East on a cruise ship. A porter carrying a box suddenly has his hand cut off with a sword. No one saw who did it. The box the porter carried belongs to Professor Deeping, a noted archaeologist; it contains a Moslem holy relic -- a slipper that had belonged to the prophet Mohammed. The professor had stolen it from a shrine in Mecca with the intention of displaying it at a British museum. (This should tell you everything you need to know about the British mindset of the time.) A centuries-old religious order known as the Hashishin had been the protectors and guardians of the relic. (The Hashishin got their start in Syria at the end of the first millenia and are skilled assassins [from whence the word came] who use hashish in their rituals.) Because the slipper is sacred, any infidel who touches it (or the case it is in) suffers the traditional Islamic punishment of losting a hand (or, I suppose, if the Hashishin are in a bad mood, his life). They are not targeting Professor Deeping yet because it would be too difficult to smuggle the relic off the ship and back to Mecca; better to wait until the professor (and the slipper) are in London where it would be easier to smuggle the slipper out of the country.
I believe it was Damon Knight who raled against the "idiot plot," that can be found in way too many novels. Basically, nothing can happen to advance the story unless the protagonist is an idiot. You have a whole lot of idiots in this book.
Cavanagh (remember him?) strikes uo a shipboard acquaintance with the professor. Back in London, the professor summons Cavanagh, tells him about the slipper, gives him the keys to the box containing the slipper, and tells him to be sure the slipper goes to the museum if anything happens to him (the professor). The professor has made out a legal document naming Cavanaugh the guardian of slipper.
Remember what I said about the idiot plot.
Anyway, the professor expects the hashishin (and their fanatical leader, Hasan of Aleppo) to try to murder him, and, by golly!, they do. In a locked room, no less. Not only do they kill the professor but they try to break into the locked box but they can't. Because, just because. and Cavanagh has the keys.
Enter Detective-Inspector Bristow of New Scotland Yard, who (for no obvious reason) enlists Cvanagh as his assistant in the investigation. The two spend most of the rest of the book rescuing each other as they are knocked out, drugged, gassed, what have you.
Ant then there is a mysterious beautiful woman with violet eyes. What can she have to do with the affair? (We later learn that America's "top" thief has his eyes on the slipper also and the mysterious woman is close to him. Is she his girlfriend? wife? partner? protege? We never learn.)
Denning, whom Cavanagh met only during the voyage to England, is describd everal times as Cavanagh's "good friend," as if they were life-long besties.
Anyway, people are being murdered and knocked out all over the place and hands are being lopped off at a steady pace. Hasan of Aleppo threatens Cavanagh and also wheedles with him to turn the slipper over to him. Deformed midgets are running all over London doing Hasan's biding and murdering people or knocking them out. One falls from the sky with a bullet in his brain -- another impossible killing.
From the author we hear that Islam was once a religion on the rise but now is fading rapidly. Somewhere along the line we come across a Muslim with slanted eyes and yellow skin, as if Rohmer was confusing his oriental villains.
The prose is purple. The writing racist. And despite doing their best to keep the slipper from its rightful owners, Cavanagh and Deeping frequently state that the slipper belongs back in Mecca and that they have no right to try to keep in London. At one point the writing goes from a first person narration to a third person narration for an entire chapter; the next chapter we're back in the first person and then halfway through the chapter we go back to the third before finally going back to the first for the rest of the chapter and ther rest of the book. For the most part the chapters are short; occasionally they are disjointed. The writing is unfocused and appears hastily written.
The pacing is fast. The lurid writing is exciting enough.
The action is repetitive. This is a book that you really have to be in the mood for to enjoy.
And it ends abruptly with a whimper, not a bang.
I have read many reviews that have highly praised the novel, so maybe it's me.
Or maybe those reviewers have been fed a bit too much hashish.