Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sax Rohmer’s Sinister Madonna

Sinister Madonna was the fifth and last of Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru novels. It appeared in 1956. Sumuru was the second of Rohmer’s great diabolical criminal masterminds.

Sumuru has quite a lot in common with Rohmer’s other great creation, Dr Fu Manchu. Both are geniuses. Both are ruthless. Both are a mortal threat to western civilisation. They are both quite prepared to resort to direct methods but where possible they prefer a more subtle approach. And both have a strong interest in Asiatic history, philosophy and religion.

The most striking resemblance between Rohmer’s two great villains is that both are sincerely convinced that they are on the side of civilisation. To use an unfortunate modern idiom, both would say that they are on the right side of history. Neither can be described as merely evil. Evil yes, but certainly not merely evil.

Sumuru, being a beautiful and highly intelligent women, believes that a world run by beautiful and highly intelligent women would be a perfect world. Violence, misery and ugliness would be banished from the world. Especially ugliness. Sumuru abhors ugliness. She particularly detests ugly women. This will obviously be quite a task and Sumuru accepts that her plan will meet fierce resistance. She is prepared for this. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and she is quite willing to break as many eggs as is necessary. Sumuru is an idealist, and if her ideals require her to commit mass murder she will do so. In fact she has already done so.

Sumuru, known to her follows as Madonna, has her own secret society - the Order of Our Lady. The name suggests a religious underpinning to her ideals. In fact Sumuru draws on various religious and philosophical traditions. She has a number of male henchmen but her principal foot soldiers are the lovely young women of her order who use their beauty and the full array of what were known in 1956 as feminine wiles in order to bend men to Sumuru’s will. 

Sinister Madonna has a plot that is reminiscent of some of his more memorable Fu Manchu tales. Sumuru has for several years been attempting to lay her hands on a fabulous talisman that will bring her immense power and influence throughout the Near East among the devotees of several great religions. This talisman is the Seal of King Solomon, carved almost three thousand years ago from the largest diamond then in existence. 

The Seal has been cunningly hidden and while Sumuru has on several occasions been close to getting her hands on it somehow it seems to keep eluding her. Now she is very close indeed to achieving her goal but she has attracted some unwelcome attention. Most annoyingly she has attracted the attention of an old and dangerous foe, Chief Inspector Gilligan of Scotland Yard.

Sumuru has another enemy, a man who had been an ally, albeit an unwilling one. And Sumuru has perhaps one weakness - a tendency to underrate her enemies.

Sinister Madonna is wonderful entertainment. Highly recommended. 

Like the Fu Manchu books the Sumuru books really need to be read in chronological sequence, starting with The Sins of Sumuru (published in the US as Nude in Mink).


  1. Glad to see a good word for this one. I enjoyed all the Sumuru books.

  2. The Sumuru books certainly don't get the attention they deserve. In fact pretty much all of Rohmer's stuff is good.

  3. Sumuru (as well as Dr. Fu Manchu) sounds like she would be a fantastic recruit for [i]The Man From U.N.C.L.E[/i]'s Thrush. In fact, David McDaniel in his [i]The Rainbow Affair[/i] tie-in novel has a rather stuffy Thrush emissary trying to recruit Fu Manchu. Dr. Fu examines the emissary as he finishes his spiel, and murmurs, "Are you trying to sell me life insurance?"

    1. Sumuru (as well as Dr. Fu Manchu) sounds like she would be a fantastic recruit for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Thrush.

      Yes. Sumuru didn't become a household name like Fu Manchu but the Sumuru books were quite influential. In various TV shows and movies in the 60s and 70s you'll see characters pop up who were influenced to some extent by Sumuru.

      Having a diabolical criminal mastermind who is also a beautiful woman was just such an obviously good idea.

      There were several Sumuru movie adaptations back in the 60s.