Sax Rohmer in audiobooks

I don’t think I ever knew that the author Sax Rohmer (creator of Fu-Manchu) was originally from Birmingham. He was born there as Arthur Henry Ward, but it seems we can’t really claim him — as he moved to South London when young.

Judging by his death-date he and his characters don’t enter the public domain in the UK until 2029. Unless, perhaps, Brexit allows us to introduce a more sensible UK copyright period in the near future. But that seems unlikely, given the combined power of the literary estates, publishers and movie studios. The Rohmer copyright status hasn’t prevented some free non-commercial audio readings, but sadly there are no tolerable free readings of the first three Fu-Manchu books:

* The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913), aka The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu.
* The Devil Doctor (1916), aka The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu.
* The Si-Fan Mysteries (1917), aka The Hand of Fu-Manchu.

The links are to the paid-for Trantor readings, which have a very good mid-Atlantic reader in John Bolen. Currently at a very reasonable $7 each.

After the first three books Rohmer then tired of the character, and it was not until 1931 that Fu-Manchu returned — at the behest of publishers and in an ever-expanding series.

Other Rohmer books which seem worth trying are:

* The Brood of the Witch-Queen (1918) which is his horror masterpiece. The only free reading I can find is the rather over-the top American one at Librivox, with the reader obviously camping it up with the voices. But if you like the 1940s ‘Olde Tyme Radio’ style then you may enjoy it.

* The voodoo mystery-adventure Bat Wing is also popular. The free audiobook is from a strong American reader who plays it more or less straight, though straying lightly into the hard-boiled detective style. There appears to be no commercial reading.

* One of his best book-length British adventure mysteries is said to be The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (1919). Sadly there’s only a free audio version which is competent, but not really satisfactory. There appears to be no commercial reading.


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