Aug 23, 2009

Tales of Chinatown (1922)

Some things I love: short stories of the mysterious persuasion, literature from before political correctness was invented, fiction that takes place in really dirty parts of London when telephones and cars were unusual possessions.

Tales of Chinatown comes from midway through the career of the prolific Sax Rohmer, who specialized in writing about the "Yellow Peril" of the Chinese neighborhoods in London, and who died most ironically of the Asian Flu in 1959.

Many of the stories read like an unambitious contemporary knockoff of Sherlock Holmes, though with a somewhat more active role for the Watson character, Knox. Others, though, are just completely weird little supernatural vignettes that are much more Poe than Doyle. A theme of cultural identity runs through all the stories, with mixed-race characters struggling to keep the better part of their souls afloat in the face of much darker undercurrents that threaten to pull them into the dangerous criminal underworld.

Like I say, nothing that you could get away with nowadays without being run out of town with flaming pitchforks, and maybe rightly so. But still, a very interesting and revealing foray into a dark little corner of history.

3 comments:

pretentiousgit said...

When we left school, my friend was given a box of elderly books by our English teacher. Among them were some truly appalling gay pulps, which she then passed on to me. They occupy a place of pride on my shelf, even though my evil ex stole the one with the rare happy ending.

~ Alex

Erin said...

Oooh, I've seen pictures of those books, they look truly fascinating. In the event of a visit to Toronto, I will probably end up holed up in your basement devouring them.

Hayley said...

I also have a couple of the pulpy gay novels, from the '60s and '70s. I'll try to dig them up for you to take a look at.