EPS Review #219 - Charlie Chan

Charlie Chan Omnibus , by Earl Derr Biggers, Wordsworth Editions 2008, 641pp.

The Omnibus edition (more easily bought on Amazon UK) contains The House Without a Key, The Chinese Parrot, and Behind that Curtain.

I just read a NYer article about Charlie Chan, on the occasion of a new book about him , so I bought a fat volume to see for myself. I love that other Chinese detective, Judge Dee, after all.

I really enjoyed The House Without a Key. The worry about the Chan stories is that there will be cringeworthy racism, but there isn't, really. Yes the attitudes are from nearly 100 years ago, but some of that is refreshing, like everyone being polite. Biggers has some progressive heroines, who are not stay-at-homes. In fact, the structure of the stories is usually a Wodehousian chap with a love interest, both caught in a mystery, which Mr Chan comes along to help solve.

The first book was the best -- the latter two being a bit on the Agatha Christie side (at least the mysteries are "fair"). I wondered why I have not lived in Hawaii! Although, some characters say it wasn't like the glory days in the late 1800s -- what must it be like now? Reading this put me in mind of the gentility my grand-parents' generation: pearls, cardigans, symphonies, sailing. There is a lot of banter about stuffy old Boston vs. dynamic young San Francisco.

He put into Chan's hand a time-yellowed page, obviously from Dan Winterslip's guest book. John Quincy and Chan bent over it together. The inscription was written in an old-fashioned hand, and the ink was fading fast. It ran:

'In Hawaii all things are perfect, none more so than the hospitality I have enjoyed in this house -- Joseph E. Gleason, 124 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria.'

John Quincy turned away, shocked. No wonder that page had been ripped out! Evidently Mr Gleason had not enjoyed the privilege of studying A. S. Hill's book on the principles of rhetoric. How could one thing be more perfect than another?

People are at pains to point out that the prototype for Charlie Chan was Chang Apana. Thank goodness for Wiki -- it was bugging me that "Apana" is not a Chinese name. Wiki explains that it is a Hawaiianisation of "Ah Ping".

Kevin wrote: Just picked up The House Without a Key--now on Kindle. Looking forward to it. My brother-in-law grew up in Honolulu. Said it was awful--literally no place to go. Probably would be better as an adult, but I imagine living there to be a lot like, say, Scottsdale. I still haven't visited; my 48 states exclude it and Alaska.

And then: Loved it. I've often wished I had lived in the 1920s (in the right class, of course). That's one of the reasons I loved my house in New York so much. Remember the chauffeur's apartment above the garage and the separate servants' yard? Guess I wouldn't like prohibition much, but the politeness and the much larger world are appealing.

Pablo wrote: I was in Hawaii when I read the attached and ordered The House Without a Key immediately. We're currently building a house there with ample lanai space, and I worried from time to time about how often we would use that vs. the enclosed areas; having just finished the book, my doubts have been assuaged.