Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Books of 1932: Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers

In Keeper of the Keys, Charlie Chan is working on a case in California. He has been invited to the home of Dudley Ward on Lake Tahoe. Ward was the first husband of the famous opera singer Ellen Landini. Chan arrives at Ward's home along with Luis Romano, opera conductor, and fourth husband of Landini. He finds that he is joining a gathering of all of Landini's husbands, past and present. And Landini just happens to be in Reno, across the border in Nevada, waiting to get a divorce from Romano. An interesting setup, which leads to murder.

This book, the last in the series, has plenty of atmosphere. Much is made of the cold weather and snow, which Charlie has never experienced. Because it was written in 1932, I was surprised to see that a charter airplane and its pilot feature prominently in this book. The picture of the sparsely populated area around Lake Tahoe in the early 1930's is intriguing. Chan takes the train to Truckee; he and other guests are driven to a tavern on the lake, then taken by motor boat to Ward's home across the lake.  His home is very isolated.

There are six novels featuring Charlie Chan, and many movies. Most of the movies are not much like the novels, but they are a lot of fun. And in the movies, Charlie Chan is known for his pithy sayings. The first book, The House Without a Key (review here), is set in Hawaii. Charlie Chan does not show up until later in the book, and he seems to be in the background during most of the investigation. He doesn't speak English very well, and does not use the aphorisms for which he is known in the movies. In the second book, The Chinese Parrot (review here), Charlie is on a special case for a friend in California. In that one, he does use aphorisms, but sparingly. By this last book in the series. Charlie is spouting aphorisms very frequently and just about as much as in the movies. Each motto fits the scene though; they are not just there for effect. Some may even contain clues.

I found that of the three books I have read, each is very different. The first one involves a romance, and Charlie plays a smaller part. The second one seems more to be a classic puzzle plot. This book does fit the traditional mystery form, and there are clues. But this one was more entertaining for me than the second one, which was set in the desert. Maybe it was the location or the different set of characters involved. Although Charlie is a policeman in Hawaii, in most of the books he is outside of Hawaii working for an individual.

Charlie is easygoing and pleasant, but he never loses sight of his goal, to catch the murderer and prevent further crimes. In this book he is working in tandem with the sheriff. The rustic sheriff makes this clear:
It's going to be pretty unpleasant for all of us, I guess. I'm Don Holt, sheriff of the county, and I don't aim to cause no innocent person any unnecessary trouble. But I got to get to the bottom of this business, and the shorter the route, the better for all of us—well, most of us, anyhow. I've asked Inspector Chan, who's had more experience in this line than I have, to give me a hand here, an' I want to say right now, that when he asks, you answer. That's all, I reckon.
Don Holt is a nice guy and he and Charlie work together well. All in all, a very enjoyable book.


Two years ago I read my first Charlie Chan book, and I read it for the first R.I.P. event that I participated in. I submit this review for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX. This book is also for the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

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Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:        251 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Charlie Chan, #3
Setting:       Lake Tahoe, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I own a Dell Mapback edition but I read my husband's reprint edition.


24 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I know that covers don't determine the quality of a book, but I like the cover of this one. And you've reminded me (for which thanks!) that I should spotlight a Charlie Chan novel.

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    1. This was a good one, Margot. I love covers on the reprint editions put out by Academy Chicago.

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  2. I haven't read any Charlie Chan books but I'm really tempted to now. I imagine they will make quite a change from British vintage crime fiction. I haven't seen any of the films either.

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    1. Katrina, they are a bit different from British vintage mysteries. And so far, each book has been a bit different. I like the picture of the times.

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  3. Really enjoyed your review TracyK - although I read Biggers far too long ago to really remember the experience though, this is the one sticks out in my memory out of the sextet - I remember liking the Tahoe setting in particular. I do love the movies fromt he 30s and early 40s

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. We love the films. We have copies of all of them, well all the ones put out in sets.

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  4. Tracy, I love the covers. I have this among a Kindle Charlie Chan megapack and didn't think to see if it fit for 1932. I got something else instead.

    Looking forward to reading some of the Chan's - albeit they look a bit soulless and a lot less lively on the device.

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    1. Col, I have enjoyed all of the ones I have read, but the 2nd one had slow spots for me.

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  5. I've not read this far into the series yet, only the first three, but I've enjoyed each one. I need to add one to the TBR. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Richard: Fortunately for me, my husband purchased all of the reprint editions, so I have books 3, 4 and 5 waiting. Especially eager to read The Black Camel, and re-watch that movie.

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  6. I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chan - movies and books, but mostly movies. Your review reminds me that it's been ages since I read one of the books. I too love these covers, most especially the updated one. That whole series of updates was beautifully designed.
    Thanks for the reminder, Tracy.

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    1. Yvette, I read more vintage mysteries than my husband, but it would taken me a lot longer to get around to these books if he had not purchased them. I do love the movies, but really did not expect much from the books. I was so wrong.

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  7. I've never read any of these, Tracy. Not really familiar with the movies either. Don't think I've ever seen one all the way through. Which might be a good thing when reading the books. Will look for this author. The challenge you read this for sounds interesting too!

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    1. I think you would like the books, Peggy. The ones I have read have a touch of romance without overwhelming the plot and humor and a picture of the times. The movies are fun but not everyone likes them as well as we do. They are short (60 to 70 minutes) and mostly from the 1930s and 40s.

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  8. Tracy, I have read quite a few reviews of Charlie Chan stories but I have not been very inclined to read any of them although Earl Derr Biggers, I think, mixes them up, as evident from the three books you have read.

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    1. I did not know what to expect when I read my first Charlie Chan books, Prashant. I might not have even read them if my husband hadn't bought them. I like both the movies and the books, but the books are really different ... with more depth.

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  9. The only thing I have read by Earl Derr Biggers is a novella about classified ads, The Agony Column. I enjoyed it, and should really try one of the Charlie Chan books.

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    1. Moira, I did get a copy of Agony Column, but don't know when I will get to it. You definitely should give the Chan books a try.

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    2. Moira - there's a Charlie Chan Megapack on AM-UK for about 40p that I got that has about 15 items in it!

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    3. Thanks Col - I'll look out for the bargain pack.

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  10. Great review. I wanted to join in this month but had too much to do writing wise. I'm in for next month.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. I am eager to know what the year is for the next month. It is always fun tracking down books although so far all have been from my own library, and mostly ones I haven't read before.

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  11. I have a few Charlie Chan books, but haven't read them yet. I'm looking forward to diving in once I have a chance.

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    1. I am sure you will enjoy them, Ryan, when you do have a chance to read them.

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