Abdullah, Achmed (Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff) (pulp fiction writer)



Achmed Abdullah was born Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff to a grand duke father and a highborn Afghani Muslim mother in czarist Russia. Raised in Afghanistan, where he assumed his Asian title of Prince Nadir Khan, he was educated at Eton and Oxford, then became a gentleman officer in the British army, keeping the peace along the Khyber Pass and in assorted colonies in Africa. He became a writer in the early 1900s, establishing the name of Achmed Abdullah as an erudite teller of thrilling stories and an elegant stylist whose work appeared in numerous periodicals and pulp magazines. Abdullah cultivated a romantic public image—the writer as dashing, exotic, and cosmopolitan—which lent an extra glamor to his work: the adventure fiction of farflung Asian and African outposts, upper-crust mysteries set in manor houses and penthouse apartments, and lurid tales of violence and drama in New York’s Chinatown. His name appeared with frequency on the covers of novels, short story collections, and popular histories. The Trail of the Beast (1919) was a spy thriller about a planned political assassination, set in a thrilling France of nightclubs, apache dancers, and promiscuous female agents. Night Drums (1921) concerned insurrection in Africa, a would-be black emperor, and an ancient mummy, and the bandaged body of the first man— Adam himself. Many of Abdullah’s American-set stories were tied to the exotic East or Africa, the “Dark Continent.” In The Bungalow on the Roof (1931), a ritzy New York apartment building contains on its rooftop a secret headquarters for an African cult, where wealthy New Yorkers go to satisfy their “diseased, degenerate craving after foul, bestial voodoo rites and worship . . .”

Some of Abdullah’s most popular stories were those set among the Chinese community in lower Manhattan, ironic and sometimes cruel tales similar to the short stories about London’s Limehouse district by Thomas Burke. The first group of these “Pell Street” tales was published as The Honorable Gentleman and Other Stories in 1919. Written under the premise that each inscrutable basement warren and cluttered shop in Chinatown held a strange, shocking secret, the stories juggled the familiar props of the Chinese ghetto—opium dens, white slavers, tong wars, submissive young immigrant girls—with touching character vignettes and poignant, usually tragic romances. The most famous of Abdullah’s Chinatown stories is no doubt “The Hatchetman,” due to its subsequent adaptation as a Broadway play and then a motion picture, starring Edward G. Robinson in the title role as the Chinatown killer, but it is a hauntingly memorable tale in its own right.

In addition to his adaptation of “The Hatch-etman” for the stage, Abdullah worked in Hollywood on occasion. The studios sought him out for projects to which his exotic experience and erudition seemed particularly suited, including the

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Arabian Nights spectacular, The Thief of Bagdad (1924), and a story of the British Raj on the northwest frontier, The Lives of the Bengal Lancers (1935) with Gary Cooper. Abdullah’s published version of Thief is likely one of the earliest examples of the “novelization” of a motion picture.


  • Alien Souls (1921);
  • Benefactor Club, The (1921);
  • Black Tents (1930);
  • Buccaneer in Spats (1924);
  • Bungalow on the Roof, The (1931);
  • Cat Had Nine Lives, The (1939);
  • Deliver Us from Evil (1939);
  • Flower of the Gods (1935);
  • Honorable Gentleman and Other Stories, The (1919);
  • Man on Horseback, The (1919);
  • Mating of the Blades, The (1920);
  • Night Drums (1921); Red Storm, The (1915);
  • Swinging Caravan, The (1925);
  • Thief of Bagdad, The (1924);
  • Trail of the Beast, The (1919);
  • Veiled Woman (1931);
  • Wings (1920);
  • Year of the Wooden Dragon (1926)

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