Friday, September 30, 2011

Keeper of the Keys, by Earl Derr Biggers

Keeper of the Keys
by Earl Derr Biggers

I'm not completely sure what I expected as I set out to try a Charlie Chan novel, the first one I've read. I've never seen any of the movies and yet had somehow built up an image of a rather goofy Chinese detective speaking awful pidgin English and spouting quaint homilies lifted from a fortune cookie.

I couldn't have been farther off the mark, except for those homilies, and quite frankly Biggers might have gone a little bit over the top in that particular area. But that's a minor quibble. There is actually another Chinese character who's integral to this book and he does speak awful pidgin English, but Chan is articulate and mild-mannered and yet a rather formidable opponent for anyone who attempts to cross him.

The story takes place at Lake Tahoe, in winter, which is quite a novelty for the Hawaiian detective. He's been called there to tackle a fairly mundane job but when he arrives at the lakefront house he finds his employer has called together the current husband of his ex-wife, an opera singer, as well as two of her other ex-husbands. The opera singer turns up before long and not so long after that she turns up dead, shot to death in an upstairs room.

From here on out Chan works hand in hand with the local sheriff, who admits that he's not really qualified to do this sort of thing, and the sheriff's retired father who preceded him as sheriff. Together they manage to sort it all out and while the crime and solution were nothing terribly exceptional the entire package was sufficiently well constructed to make for quite a page-turner.

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