Sax Rohmer's Gaston Max
3 October 1999


Gaston Max, Sax Rohmer's rather dapper French detective, and "the greatest criminal investigator in Europe," appeared in four novels and six radio plays.

  • The Yellow Claw. London: Methuen, 1915; New York: McBride, Nast, 1915.

  • The Golden Scorpion. London: Methuen, 1919; New York: McBride. 1920.

  • The Day the World Ended. London: Cassell, 1930; New York, The Crime Club, 1930.

  • Myself and Gaston Max. BBC 14 August through 18 September, 1942.

  • Seven Sins.  London: Cassell, 1944; New York: McBride, 1943.


Gaston Max, "of the Paris Police," made his first appearance in the serial version of The Yellow Claw in Lippincott's magazine from February to June, 1915. The novel was published in book form that same year. Max appeared in Chapter XI, appropriately titled "Presenting M. Gaston Max." He was a consummate detective and made extensive use of his uncanny abilities at disguise and mimicry.

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  With puzzled face, Dunbar opened the envelope and withdrew the Commissioner's note. It was very brief:--
  "M. Gaston Max, of the Paris Police, is joining you in the Palace Mansions murder case. You will cooperate with him from date above."
  "Max!" said Dunbar, gazing astoundedly at his subordinate.
  Certainly it was a name which might well account for the amazement written upon the inspector's face; for it was the name of admittedly the greatest criminal investigator in Europe!
And so it falls to Gaston Max to stop Fu Manchu’s prototype, the powerful and mysterious "Mr. King," a dealer in drugs and the head of an unabashedly "yellow peril" organization named  the "Sublime Order." The book is, after all, titled The Yellow Claw. The parallels with Dr. Fu-Manchu and the Si-Fan are quite apparent.

 

The Yellow Claw. New York: McBride, Nast, 1915; London: Methuen, 1915


Max next appeared in The Golden Scorpion

This story first appeared in The Illustrated London News, Christmas Number, 1918 as "Complete Sax Rohmer's Novel The Golden Scorpion."

It also saw serial publication in Munsey's from January to May, 1919.

The Golden Scorpion is  particularly interesting in that it linked the story lines developed in The Yellow Claw with Dr. Fu Manchu. The antagonist, "The Golden Scorpion," is found to be an agent of Fu Manchu who appears, but is not named.

The Golden Scorpion "wore a plain yellow robe and had a little black cap on his head. His face, his wonderful evil face I can never forget, and his eyes -- I fear you will think I exaggerate -- but his eyes were green as emeralds!"

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Interior illustrations are available here.

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Cover: Frank Wright

For this outing, it is quite evident that Rohmer aspired to more than a mere instance of the "yellow peril."

Yet another criminal organization threatens London and the "civilized" world. Detective Inspector Dunbar is on the trail but cannot expect any help from Max as his body is found by the River Police in Chapter Three.

Many pages and numerous developments later we learn that the unnamed cabman at the center of events is one Charles Malet, Gaston Max in disguise. And so, Dunbar is once again "assisted" by Max.

The Golden Scorpion. London: Methuen, 1919; New York: McBride. 1920.
Additional publication detail and artwork.


Max did not make his third appearance until May 4, 1929 in a Collier's serial titled The Day the World Ended. It ran for twelve issues, concluding on July 20, 1929.  This story in closer to mainstream science fiction than any other Sax Rohmer work. It begins as a seemingly supernatural tale of vampires and strange men dressed in armor roaming castle walls.

Once again, Max makes a late appearance: only to reveal that he has been present all along--in disguise.  The seemingly supernatural is then revealed as the work of a strange scientist who is attempting to use his scientific achievements (including a death ray) to conquer the world.

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A John Richard Flanagan illustration
Collier's May 25, 1929

The Day the World Ended. New York, The Crime Club, 1930; London: Cassell, 1930;Toronto, Canada: The Crime Club, 1930).

 

Cover: Bobri (Vladimir Bobritsky)

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Myself and Gaston Max

The second of Rohmer's miscellaneous radio serials was something of a hybrid. It was a series of six brief plays, each based on a separate short story. The stories, originally published in This Week, were part of the "Crime Magnet" series featuring adventurer and detective Bernard de Treville. In the radio plays the character of de Treville was replaced by that of gaston Max, Rohmer's French detective from The Golden Scorpion and other novels. The over-all title of the radio series was Myself and Gaston Max. The six plays, each fifteen minutes long, were broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on Friday evenings at 6:45, from 14 August through 18 September, 1942.  The part of Gaston Max was played by Carleton Hobbs and that of the narrator, Angus MacGregor, by James Woodburn. (Both Hobbs and Woodburn were primarily radio actors, though Hobbs narrated documentary films and Woodburn appeared in Tight Little Island and a few other British films during the 1940s.) The series was produced by John Richmond, and consisted of the following plays:

1:
2:
3:
4:
5:
6:
The Black and White Bag
The Green Turban
The Broken Eagle
White Jackdaws Are Rare
Count d'Ambro's Window
The Kravonia Panelling
14 August 1942
21 August
28 August
4 September
11 September
18 September
Sax Rohmer, Elizabeth Rohmer, and Cay Van Ash each wrote two of the scripts, though all scripts were revised and edited by Rohmer before being broadcast.  The original stories on which they were based, together with the dates of publication in This Week, are given in the same order as the above list:
The Black and White Bag
The Mystic Turban
The Broken Ikon
The Elusive Jackdaw
Count d'Ambro's Window
The Mystery of the Panelled Room
12 September 1937
13 August 1939
19 September 1937
20 August 1939
9 January 1938
30 July 1939
The reason for using Gaston Max as the leading character instead of de Treville is not known for certain. One plausible conjecture is that the de Treville character was not well known in Britain--only three of the stories had been published in England, and had aroused no particular enthusiasm--whereas Gaston Max was known as the detective in three highly successful and often-reprinted novels.  In a conversation with [R. E. Briney] in 1969, Mrs. Rohmer said that it had been her idea to introduce Gaston Max into the radio series. 

Cay Van Ash summarized his attitude toward the shows in "Ourselves and Gaston Max":

The substitution of Gaston Max for Bernard de Treville was really little more than a substitution of names, with a few "Gallicisms" thrown in for characterization. In my opinion, it was not very satisfactory. One couldn't really imagine Gaston Max doing the things de Treville did. The choice may have been made simply because Sax then had Max in mind as the detective in the projected novel Seven Sins

The above material is from "Myself and Gaston Max" and "Ourselves and Gaston Max"
in The Rohmer Review, No. 15.  September 1976.
Copyright 1976 by R. E. Briney. All rights reserved.


Max's final appearance was in Seven Sins, an eight part serial in Collier's from July 3 through August 21, 1943.

"Owing to what he calls a wee misunderstanding wi' Vichy," Max goes to London to help Scotland Yard track a Nazi spy. Throw in Lord Markus (at right) for whom "Occultism and Ancient Egypt played a large part" and Max's many disguises and you have Rohmer's version of a spy novel.

"Beginning a New Sax Rohmer Novel. The exotic and the occult meet in this enthralling serial of wartime London. Against a background of gambling and espionage, you will encounter Mr. Rohmer's most sinister creations."
                           -- Collier's

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Collier's July 3, 1943, page 15
Artist: Elmore Brown

Lord Marcus raised his arms like a priest before the alter and intoned words in an unfamiliar language. The long-lashed eyes of the woman never flickered.
    

   

Seven Sins. New York: McBride, 1943; London: Cassell, 1944.

"Sax Rohmer, beloved by thriller-mystery fans for his Dr. Fu-Manchu stories, now turns his amazingly deft hand to a spy novel of World War II." --dustjacket

Cover: Willard Fairchild

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Copyright 1976, 1999 Lawrence Knapp & R. E. Briney. All rights reserved.

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