Earl Derr Biggers – The House Without a Key (1925)


Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Scavenger Hunt Category: Body of Water
Date Finished: January 14, 2017
TBR #4
Follow the Clues step #4: from House to House.
Reporter Challenge: Set during summer.

The initial appearance of Charlie Chan is a leisurely look at Hawaii through the eyes of a visiting young, male Bostonian, who has been sent to retrieve an aunt who has failed to return in a timely manner from a visit to their relatives. One of those relatives, a man with a disreputable past, soon is murdered. A number of individuals with grudges are in the vicinity, including one with a beautiful daughter, of course.

The young man initially is a stiff, but grows a bit as he experiences other races and cultures. As an upper crust white, he is shocked when meeting someone competent from a different race, but Charlie Chan proves to be an intelligent and wise detective. The mystery is solved by Charlie in the background, but we experience the young Bostonian reaching that conclusion independently. There are a few glimpses of Charlie Chan as portrayed in the movies, in the form of a few wise sayings, as well as through his largely, but largely unseen, family, but for the most part the character is much less cartoonish than the movie version. This is an interesting and loving look at Honolulu and Hawaii in the 1920s. It has been many years since I read the rest of this series, somehow missing this one, but Derr Biggers takes Charlie to Califonria in a number of them, just as the movies taken him throughout the world. I’m sure it would have been difficult to keep describing the Hawaiian setting from a newcomer’s perspective, but that is such a central focus of this work. Another criticism is the relegation of Chan to the background, rather than having him be a more active player in this investigation. I believe I will have to reread the rest of this short series to determine how Derr Biggers utilized his detective once this debut was so successful.




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