Cheryl's Reviews > The House Without a Key

The House Without a Key by Earl Derr Biggers
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Oct 08, 14

bookshelves: mystery
Read in June, 2011

I loved this. It was a well-plotted, classic mystery. Biggers's characters are wonderful, and the Hawaiian setting is evocative of a long-lost time. Like all mysteries of the 1920s, the author trades in ethnic types to add local color, but I found the characters fully-formed, not simple stereotypes. What strains belief is not the multi-ethnic cast, but the fact that the Honolulu PD would allow a relative of a murder victim just off the boat to participate in the investigation as an equal. I think that Charlie Chan gets a bad reputation from all the movies, because in this book he is a fine policeman and serves as something of a mentor to the newcomer, annoying Bostonian stereotype John Quincy Winterslip. Having read the biography of Charlie Chan, I think that Biggers was trying to represent someone he admired and a multi-ethnic society that few in the 20s had ever experienced. To me in 21st century Arcadia, a teen nephew named Willie Chan who is crazy for baseball is just a regular kid--to show the American-born generation of Chan's family as just like mainland kids was probably eye-opening. I am looking forward to reading other works by Biggers because I finished the book with a good feeling--I've started the non-Chan mystery Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913) and am enjoying the deft writing based on a rather ridiculous premise--though those annoying New England stereotypes are grating at times. Biggers has much better writing overall than other classic mystery writers like Christie and Sayers--light, diverting, with great description of settings.
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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Since Biggers pretty much stereotyped everyone -- par for the course at that time -- I didn't find his ethnic stereotypes offensive, particularly since he showed a great deal of respect for Chinese culture. I also read a later work (title is escaping me) and discovered that Chan's English improves considerably over time.
I'm still working on the biography; I forgot to take it to NO with me.


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