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The House Without a Key (Charlie Chan #1)

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  986 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
"I would put Charlie Chan among the ten best fictional detectives." —Rex Stout

Charlie Chan is back!

Earl Derr Biggers' crackling six-volume series featuring the clever, chubby Chinese Detective of the Honolulu Police Department, is coming back into print.

Biggers brings Honolulu to life with his deft descriptions of the landscape and its hybrid ethnic communities. And with t
Paperback, 286 pages
Published October 1st 2008 by Chicago Review Press (first published 1925)
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Bobby Underwood
Oct 08, 2014 Bobby Underwood rated it it was amazing
You can almost feel the gentle trade winds of Hawaii during the 1920s in this classic novel by Earl Derr Biggers. Romantic and full of atmosphere, this is a most enjoyable read that was our first introduction to Charlie Chan. Biggers was always a great romance writer who simply incorporated mystery into his books to propel the story forward. This is never more evident than in The House Without a Key.

The story centers on young and proper John Quincy Winterslip of Boston, who has been sent to retr
Jun 12, 2011 Hannah rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries, 2011-reads
50 years before the suave and dapper fictional TV detective Steve McGarrett policed the streets of Honolulu in "Hawaii 5-0", writer Earl Derr Biggers (what a great name, BTW) gave us the equally dapper (but alas not suave) fictional book detective Charlie Chan. Chan became so famous and beloved by his fans that Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and made a series of black and white movies featuring this fat and canny Oriental detective.

In Biggers' 1925 debut whodunnit featuring Chan, it really sh
Aug 27, 2011 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-mystery
The House Without a Key, published in 1925, was the first of the Charlie Chan mysteries by Earl Derr Biggers. The six Charlie Chan novels were immensely successful but the movies based (loosely) on them were even more so - in fact there were no less than 40 Charlie Chan movies!

The movies have been attacked for supposedly promoting racial stereotypes. I haven’t seen the movies but the intention behind the books was to overturn racial stereotypes by having a Chinese hero at a time when Chinese vil
I thoroughly enjoyed this first Charlie Chan mystery, and can't believe that I never picked one up before! I imagine this will be a series that I'll tear through.

The mystery itself was good, of course, and it probably stands on par with any number of Agatha Christie mystery novels, but for me the mystery wasn't what made this book so enjoyable. It was the subtle humor, and the wispy strokes of humanity that Earl Derr Biggers gave to his characters that made me fall for this book. Charlie's way w
Jun 20, 2013 Casey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went on a mission to read at least one book featuring every literary detective who was satirized in the 1976 movie Murder by Death, which is one of my favorites. Having already read novels featuring Poirot, Marple, Nick & Nora Charles, and Spade, this was my last stop. My verdict?

Best detective (character): Nick & Nora. Their sarcastic banter put them at the top of the list for me.
Best plot: Poirot. Agatha Christie was a great storyteller.

That said, I simply loved the setting AND the w
Lisa Kucharski
Apr 29, 2013 Lisa Kucharski rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First Charlie Chan mystery, and a very fun book it is to read. It is of it's time and gives some really interesting views of society at that time. It is wonderful to follow Chan and John Quincy Winterslip work together and develop a respect for one another that transcends many others in the story. Nice mystery as well, very visual, and let's face it... you'll want to go to Hawaii after reading of its beauty. The story follows John Quincy for the most part and he moves from a man raised and ready ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Jul 28, 2011 Mary Ronan Drew rated it really liked it
1925 Hawaii was an idyllic sort of place, a place where a straight-laced New England Puritan could lose himself in the heady scent of night blooms and the sunset gilding of the sea. And that’s just what happens to John Quincy Winterslip, a Boston bond dealer who is sent by the family to fetch home his aunt, who left months ago for a visit and hasn’t come home.

His ship arrives in the evening and because of bureaucratic red tape (yes, even in Hawaii Territory in 1925) the ship has to sit outside t
Susan Ferguson
Dec 09, 2012 Susan Ferguson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, 2012, nook-owned
This is the book that started it all - the movies, etc. Charlie Chan is a respected detective in the Hawaiian police force.
John Quincy Winterslip has come to Hawaii from Boston to get his Aunt Minerva to return home. She has been in Hawaii for quite some time staying with the family blacksheep, Dan Winterslip. John Quincy is not happy as he arrives in San Francisco - but he has a feeling of homecoming at San Francisco, like he's been there before. He meets an uncle in San Francisco who he stays
This book is the first of the Charlie Chan mysteries and I was quite excited to read it. I'm a big fan of the Charlie Chan movies and wanted to read the novels that inspired them. I was a bit disappointed with this one for a few reasons. First of all, there is not enough Charlie Chan. As one of my Goodreads friends pointed out to me, Earl Derr Biggers didn't realize that character would be such a sensation. So perhaps subsequent books will have more Charlie Chan. Another thing is that I didn't r ...more
Sep 28, 2012 Tracyk rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
I have seen many of the Charlie Chan films, and I have always enjoyed them, but I had not read any of the books. I was pleasantly surprised that I found this first book very enjoyable.

The book has a complex plot that held my interest. A family originally from Boston, the Winterslips, has some members living in Hawaii. One of the wealthy Winterslips living in Hawaii is murdered. A younger member of the family, John Quincy Winterslip, has been sent to Boston to check up on his Aunt Minerva and pe
Angela M Sanders
What a fascinating peek into time The House Without a Key is! In the novel, the characters regularly ruminate on how much Hawaii has changed since the glory years of the '80s and '90s--and they weren't talking about the twentieth century, either. The descriptions of Honolulu in the 1920s are enough to warrant a read of the book. The story's characters are strong, if a little predictable, and the mystery takes second seat to the novel's spectacular setting. But all in all, it was a great read.

Jan 28, 2010 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Young Bostonian, John Quincy Winterslip, has been dispatched to Honolulu, Hawaii to bring his Aunt Minerva home. She’s been visiting relative, Dan Winterslip, for many weeks and was supposed to have returned by now. But Dan’s murder changes everything, and as John Quincy becomes embroiled in the investigation, he too begins to succumb to the charms of Hawaii.

I’ve never watched a Charlie Chan movie for more than a few minutes. Something about them didn’t hold my interest, but when I found a copy
Jun 18, 2011 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mysteries, hawaii, june
The story takes place in the early 1920's Hawaii in Honolulu surrounding the murder of a wealthy man. A side story is that of a young man who has come from the chilly Boston area to the lovely tropical islands that are either buffeted by Kona winds or soothed by trade winds and he finds a a new world. I had a great time reading this book easily finding myself transported back to the era described in the book even as they bemoaned the fact that Hawaii had changed beyond recognition !! That damned ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
I enjoyed this a great deal, it's a clever, well-paced mystery with an engaging enough romantic drama weaving in and out of the actual whodunnit.Surely I should be able to say more than that about a book I enjoyed so much? Not necessarily. I always try and say something about theme, style and resonance, but in this case it's simply a case of a book that sets out to do one thing - entertain the reader with a breezy, absorbing story, and everything within works to achieve just just that end - no m ...more
Alaina Sloo
Throw away everything you ever thought you knew about Charlie Chan from the Charlie Chan movies of the 1930s and 40s. Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan books, written in the 1920s and 1930s, are much more interesting, putting on view the commonly held stereotypes of Chinese Americans during this period and the racism they encountered. The Charlie Chan of the books is an intelligent and subtle opponent of those attitudes. The mystery is clever and great fun, and like all of the Charlie Chan books, ...more
Nov 19, 2011 Cristina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first Charlie Chan book from the 20s. Set in Waikiki, the Honolulu police department solves a murder mystery with the help of both recent and long time visitors to the area. I loved each characters impressions of the island and having cocktails at the former home that was the setting of the book under the century-old Kiawe tree from the story was dreamy. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Did I mention I may now be obsessed with Hawaii.
Sherry Leffert
Jan 01, 2011 Sherry Leffert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading the biography of Charlie Chan, I wanted to read a Charlie Chan mystery. This was a wonderful engaging story. Aside from the whodunit, it is a coming of age story of a young man from a Boston Brahmin society who finds a new identity in the free romantic atmosphere of Hawaii. Charlie Chan is a key figure with all the charm and wit that I remembered about him.
The good: A solid, nicely written mystery with some interesting characters, set in Hawaii. Also, it's pretty liberal, considering the time it was written.

The bad: Well, I'd appreciate more Chan and less other characters..

The bad:None.
Mar 20, 2008 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have read several times over the years. Never tire of the oldies but goodies.
Marts  (Thinker)
Oct 25, 2012 Marts (Thinker) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, mystery
Exciting Hawaiian classic mystery, and an introduction to Charlie Chan...
May 26, 2017 Phrodrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Introducing Charlie Chan in his debut novel

Having successfully published His first mystery: Seven Keys to Baldpate, Earl Biggers would introduce to the world Charlie Chan in The House Without a Key.
The background on Charlie Chan is that the character was based on a news story read by Biggers while he was visiting in Hawaii. The real Charlie Chan was a Hawaiian police officer Chang Apana. Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

Biggers wou
May 27, 2017 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this book on our trip to Hawaii. It's the first in the Charlie Chan series, and was written by the author Earl Derr Biggers there in 1925. Miss Minerva Winterslip of Boston has been staying too long in Hawaii at the home of her cousin, Dan. Every day she thinks about leaving, but then more time passes, and she continues to stay. Her serious nephew, John Quincy, is dispatched by the family to bring her home. When he arrives he finds that his cousin Dan has been murdered during the night. Mis ...more
Sep 07, 2014 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(FROM MY BLOG) "The 'eighties'," he sighed.  "Hawaii was Hawaii then.  Unspoiled, a land of opera bouffe, with old Kalakaua sitting on his golden throne."  ...  "It's been ruined," he complained sadly.

It is mandatory for anyone who has visited Hawaii more than once to tell everyone within earshot, "It was so much nicer [or "uncrowded" or "romantic" or "authentically Hawaiian"] last time I was here!"

You won't be cured of such comments -- for of such is human nature -- but you may gain a little pe
May 22, 2017 George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
1st in the Honolulu police detective Charlie Chan mystery series. A wealthy prominent Honolulu resident with an unsavory past and not well liked is found murdered and it is Chan's job to discover the killer.

Set in Honolulu, the story has has well developed descriptions of the landscape and hybrid ethnic communities of Honolulu along with Chinese-Hawaiian culture. Blended into the story is the Boston origins of the victim's family and well developed characters representing this different culture.
Thetis Manidou
Όχι, ήθελα κάτι άλλο!
Sam Bissell
Feb 19, 2015 Sam Bissell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mystery lovers
Recently, I watched a few old Charlie Chan movies from the mid-'40s, starring Sidney Toler (who took up the reins after Warner Oland retired). These movies mesmerized me as a kid and probably are the reason I like mysteries so much as an adult. However, I had never read any of the Charlie Chan mysteries before so I looked them up at Amazon and started loading them into my Kindle. Sadly, there are only 6 specific Chan mysteries written by Earl Derr Biggers and several wannabe-Chan-mysteries.
Mar 01, 2017 Emma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first Charlie Chan mystery, written in 1925. I read it years ago, but then forgot who committed the murder of Dan Winterslip, how they did it, and the motive. Charlie Chan may be the detective, but the main character is Dan Winterslip's second cousin, John Quincy Winterslip, who assists Charlie Chan with his investigation. John Quincy is a proper Bostonian Brahmin who discovered the adventurous side of the Winterslip family when he arrives in Hawaii. Charlie Chan solves the case more ...more
Larry Piper
Apr 30, 2014 Larry Piper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I was rummaging around at Gutenberg/Australia, looking for Philo Vance books, I discovered that they also had Charley Chan. I remembered seeing some old Charley Chan movies with my dad when I was a kid. So, I figured I should check it out. Also, the author's middle name was an entry in a crossword puzzle I did. I'd never heard of him before. So, even more reason to check out Charley Chan. This is the first of what eventually was a series of six or seven books (and something like 30 movies) ...more
May 01, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
The Winterslip family is an old Bostonian family with an upstanding reputation. They take their name seriously, but through the years there have been a few Winterslips who have inherited a wanderlust and left the safety of Boston to explore the world. The elderly Miss Minerva Winterslip seems to have caught the family wanderlust because after a planned to stay in Hawaii for a couple of weeks, she has now been there for several months. Family at home has begun to worry so they are sending young J ...more
Jim Dooley
Jan 19, 2014 Jim Dooley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recall that many people enjoyed reading the classic mystery novels because they offered a brisk storyline while delivering an escape from the daily routine. Having just read this first novel in the Charlie Chan series, I fully understand and appreciate that sentiment.

Having grown up watching the various Charlie Chan movies on television, I was very pleasantly surprised that this one features not only a crackling good mystery with clues and twists aplenty, but it also fosters very strong charac
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Earl Derr Biggers was born in Warren, Ohio on August 24, 1884. Years later, while attending Harvard University, Biggers showed little passion for the classics, preferring instead writers such as Rudyard Kipling and Richard Harding Davis. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1907, he worked briefly for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and at Bobbs-Merrill publishers. By 1908, Biggers was hired at the ...more
More about Earl Derr Biggers...

Other Books in the Series

Charlie Chan (6 books)
  • The Chinese Parrot (Charlie Chan, #2)
  • Behind That Curtain (Charlie Chan, #3)
  • The Black Camel (Charlie Chan, #4)
  • Charlie Chan Carries On (Charlie Chan, #5)
  • Keeper of the Keys (Charlie Chan, #6)

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“He turned to Miss Minerva. "I'm relying on you, at any rate. You've got a good mind. Anybody can see that."
"Thank you," she said.
"As good as a man's," he added.
"Oh, now you've spoiled it!”
“he dragged his words painfully from the poets” 1 likes
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