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The House Without a Key: A Charlie Chan…

The House Without a Key: A Charlie Chan Mystery (Charlie Chan Mysteries… (original 1925; edition 2008)

by Earl Derr Biggers (Author)

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3081753,353 (3.66)45
Title:The House Without a Key: A Charlie Chan Mystery (Charlie Chan Mysteries Book 1)
Authors:Earl Derr Biggers (Author)
Info:Chicago Review Press (2008), 293 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:read in 2019, mystery, classic, research

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



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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
I read this in Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s, which included the novel with annotations.

Charlie Chan is an iconic character, and it was interesting to see him within the context of his first novel, published with its original text. The book surprised me in many ways. First of all, the settings within the book are masterfully portrayed. I've never seen a book so vividly describe Hawaii in the 1920s. The annotations remarked a few times on inaccuracies or fictionalized bits, but many of the details felt spot-on (I say that, having extensively read on early 20th century Hawaii for my own novel). While I expected issues with racism and caricatures because of the era, this was not as bad as I expected it would be (how's that for an endorsement?). Charlie Chan is regarded as something of a mockery now, but as the notes observed, he does not speak pidgin Chinese, but talks as a very highly educated man. The text of the book demonstrated that well. The way white characters reacted to Chan felt realistic (though sad), but I also understood well why the original text had Chan racist against the Japanese. Within the context of the time, that made perfect sense; it's worth noting that these racist snippets were toned down or removed in later editions of the book.

This does not develop as a modern murder mystery does--often with a corpse in chapter one. Instead, the start is slow as the reader gets to know the Winterslip family of both Boston and Honolulu. The dead body doesn't show up until almost a hundred pages in, with Charlie Chan's arrival immediately after. I think my biggest surprise about the book was that Chan was a minor character with a pivotal role. Instead, most of the novel followed the stuffy scion of the Winterslip family. His was not a bad perspective--it was enjoyable to watch him grow across the book--but I expected a Charlie Chan book to, well, be more about Charlie Chan. The murderer was fairly obvious to be from early on, though there were some nice twists and turns leading up to the big reveal at the end.

I feel no urge to read onward in the series, but if I need to do more research on 1920s Hawaii, I just might. The book was not a bad read at all. Intriguing, I'd say. ( )
  ladycato | Jan 7, 2019 |
This is my favorite of all the Charlie Chan mysteries. ( )
  cynthiakcoe | Feb 22, 2017 |
Bigger beautifully creates the post monachy/ prestate hawaii and gives us a first glimpse of Chalie Chan. Good mysterie to boot. ( )
  steve12553 | Jun 7, 2016 |
this is a charming introduction to the classic detective Charlie Chan. He springs from Derr Biggers' pen fully formed and ready to solve the mystery presented to him in this novel. Chan was the author's answer to the preponderance of "Yellow Peril" Asian villains on the time and is loosely based on an actual detective that Derr Biggers met. The series is a must for fans of golden Age detective stories. The mystery involves the murder of a rich socialite who has made a home in Hawaii and leads back to family secrets best left uncovered. Well written and entertaining. ( )
1 vote Leischen | May 30, 2016 |
Exotic Hawaii in the 1920's, a brilliant and charming detective, and a classic puzzle--it has it all. Charlie Chan's Hawaiian mysteries are among my all time favorites. ( )
  slb.vt | Jan 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Biggers, Earl Derrprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stasio, MarilynIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Miss Minerva Winterslip was a Bostonian in good standing, and long past the romantic age.
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This is the classic novel in which Charlie Chan makes his debut as Inspector of the Honolulu Police Department. Earl Derr Biggers brings Honolulu to life with deft descriptions of the landscape and of its hybrid ethnic communities. With the creation of Detective Chan, Biggers also shatters stereotypes and is ahead of his time in highlighting the positive aspects of Chinese-Hawaiian culture, just as his skillful rendering of San Francisco is noteworthy of its modernity and keen sense of place.… (more)

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