Sunday, April 14, 2013

B is for Earl Derr Biggers

Today I am featuring The Chinese Parrot (1926) by Earl Derr Biggers for my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for this letter.

Biggers wrote six Charlie Chan mysteries. The Chinese Parrot is the second book in the series. The first book in the series is set in Hawaii, where Charlie is a detective on the Honolulu Police Force.

I did not realize when I chose this book for a CFA post on police procedurals that Charlie was on holiday for this outing. My plans were to feature police procedural novels that fit a more standard definition of a police procedural novel.

It is difficult to settle on a definitive description but this one by Julian Symons in Bloody Murder (revised ed., 1985) comes close to what I am looking for.
The police novel, or the police-procedural as it is now called, concentrates upon the detailed investigation of a crime from the point of view of the police, and in the best examples of the kind does so with considerable realism.
However, it is not that unusual for an author of a police procedural series to take a break from the standard fare and send his detective on holiday, so I decided to go ahead and include this book. (Not to mention the fact that I thought about moving to the next in the series, but it has the same type of plot.)

In this book, Charlie has traveled to the mainland (San Francisco) to deliver a valuable string of pearls. He is doing this as a favor for his old friend and owner of the pearls, Sally Jordan, who needs to sell them because she has lost all of her considerable fortune. Alexander Eden, another old friend of Sally's, has negotiated the deal.

The opening paragraph:
Alexander Eden stepped from the misty street into the great, marble-pillared room where the firm of Meek and Eden offered its wares. Immediately, behind showcases gorgeous with precious stones or bright with silver, platinum and gold, forty resplendent clerks stood at attention. Their morning coats were impeccable, lacking the slightest suspicion of a wrinkle, and in the left lapel of each was a pink carnation, as fresh and perfect as though it had grown there.
The majority of the book is set in a small town in the California desert, where the buyer of the pearls has a ranch. Charlie and Bob Eden, Alexander's son, travel to the ranch. When they arrive, suspicious circumstances lead Charlie to convince the buyer that the pearls will be arriving at a later date, even though he has them with him. Shortly after that, Charlie and Bob discover evidence that points to a murder, but can find no body.

At this point, we are about one third of the way into the mystery. The story gets even more complex, and the book is a great read. There are many interesting supporting characters, including a local newspaperman and a young woman who scouts for movie locations.

Racism rears its ugly head, as is common in many books written at the time. Charlie and other Chinese characters in the book are treated with a lack of respect and outright hostility. However, the author depicts Charlie Chan as an intelligent and insightful detective, well-known and respected even outside of Hawaii.

I have only read one other mystery in this series, the first one. Charlie is more central in this novel. In the first novel, The House Without a Key, Charlie does not show up until half way through and the story of the Winterslip family is more prominent than the detecting. My review of the first novel is here.

This book is also submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge (Dangerous Beasts: a book with an animal in the title).

22 comments:

  1. Ooh thanks for introducing me to what sounds like a great writer. I love the classic/vintage mystery genre and it looks like Earl Derr Biggers fits right in that mould. And I love the name Earl Derr Biggers!

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    1. Peter, I think you will like the Charlie Chan books if you give them a try. And the author's name is great, isn't it?

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  2. I've got this one on the docket for this year as well! Thanks for the preview.

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    1. Bev, this is a really good one, in my opinion.

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  3. Tracy - Oh, Charlie Chan! That brings back memories! Thank you for that. I must look at that series again and I really should spotlight one of them. You have inspired me :-)

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    1. Margot, a Charlie Chan book would be great for a spotlight.

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  4. TracyK: Thanks for an interesting profile. When I was in Hawaii I thought about buying a book featuring Charlie but opted for a contemporary Hawaiian mystery. I should have read Charlie.

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    1. Bill, as far as I can tell, only two of the six books are actually set in Hawaii, the first one and The Black Camel. Three are set in California, one on an ocean liner (I think).

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  5. I haven't read any Charlie Chan books but I've read a short story which I liked a lot. I don't think they're as easily found in the UK as they are in the US but I shall certainly look out for one to read.

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    1. I will be interested to see what you think of them, if you get a chance to try one.

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  6. I haven't read any books by Earl Derr Biggers. Thanks for the recommendation I will look for this book. Oh! I love the author's name too!

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    1. This author is definitely worth a read. Too bad he did not write more mysteries.

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  7. More food for thought, I'll have to see if I can find at least one of these books. I have vague recollections of seeing Charlie on the TV as a child, probably some old b/w film.

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    1. My family enjoys the Charlie Chan movies also. Not the same as the books, but lots of fun if you like movies of that vintage.

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  8. Great choice TracyK - it's been a long time since I read any of the books but this does make me want to pick themup again - I have a great fondness for the movies too, even if they are quite different.

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    1. We love the movies, with either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler. We watched them as they were released in sets in recent years, about time to watch some again.

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  9. Tracy, I hope to read a Charlie Chan novel, especially since reading a couple of reviews of Earl Derr Biggers' books on other blogs. He is quite an interesting character.

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    1. Prashant, I agree, a very interesting character. And this book provided an interesting picture of California at the time, also.

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    1. There are some great vintage paperback covers for Charlie Chan books too. I will have to find some.

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  11. At one point in the series, Charlie says he has to go other places because there isn't enough crime in Honolulu! I have one more to go in the series. I have loved each book.

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    1. Nan, I am borrowing my husband's copies to read, so have them all on hand, just have to get to them.

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