This post originally appeared in slightly different form on September 26, 2007.
It’s the story of American reporter Eric Heald and British intelligence agent Major John Pendragon, who set off into the wilds of China (which were still pretty wild in 1919) to foil the plans of renegade Taoist priest Fang Tung. Fang Tung is trying to stir up a rebellion against the Chinese government, which was allied with England at the time. Along the way Heald and Pendragon pick up an ally, the beautiful daughter of an American doctor who established a hospital in China before his death, a hospital which the daughter still runs.
This story would have made a pretty good 1930s adventure movie with, say, Gary Cooper, Victor McLaglen, and Myrna Loy. Warner Oland probably would have played the villainous Fang Tung, who can control men’s minds through hypnotism. His stronghold is an island temple in the middle of a lake, complete with secret passages, torture chambers, and other good stuff like that. Our heroes get captured, escape, and get captured again in the usual pulp fashion. The pace is a little slow at times and the prose is a little old-fashioned (imagine that, old-fashioned prose in a book that’s nearly 90 nears old), but everything finally builds up to a climax that’s very dramatic and effective, even if there’s not a lot of the slam-bang action you might expect.
FANG TUNG, MAGICIAN would have to be classified as a “yellow peril” novel, and as such, it’s hardly what you’d call politically correct today. The characters are not as stereotypical as you might think, though, and Bedford-Jones was always good at providing heroes and villains of all sorts. I enjoyed the story quite a bit, even though it requires some patience, and if you like slightly cerebral pulp adventure yarns, I recommend it. A recent, inexpensive reprint is available from my friend Brian Earl Brown, and you can find information about it here, along with info on the other pulp reprints Brian has published.