Steve Reid's Reviews > Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History

Charlie Chan by Yunte Huang
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Feb 02, 2012

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Read in July, 2011

There's a book I read a while back called "Charlie Chan" by Yunte Huang, a naturalized US citizen born in China. Huang came over to the US for college, worked odd jobs to pay his way, and stumbled upon the persona of Charlie Chan. Huang's journeys across the country lead to his "discovering" Chan and Chan's creator and make for an entertaining spin. Once he gets into Chan and his predecessorFu Manchu as image of the Chinaman in the US, the reading gets drier, but still interesting, especially when he goes into the history of Honolulu and an ace Chinese/Hawaiian detective who worked there in the early 20th century. After I'd read the book I checked out a few Chan novels from the library. They were written around 1925 and as detective books go not too bad, but certainly not Hammett or Chandler. Earl Derr, the writer, relies on some hilarious cliches -- I counted five times in the book that someone "leaped out of his chair" upon hearing some surprising bit of information. Even funnier, in the last chapter someone comes halfway up out of his chair -- the information not being all that surprising but maybe just a little.

Coincidentally, after I read Huang's book I noticed that he was teaching at UC Santa Barbara, the same school where my brother Dan graduated and where my friend Chuck now teaches. Chuck emailed me a photo of Huang on the cover of one of the campus magazines.

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