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by Earl Derr Biggers
Academy Chicago, September 2009
334 pages
ISBN: 0897335945

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This fifth of six 'Charlie Chan Novels' to be lovingly and beautifully reprinted by Academy Chicago in softcover, takes us through many countries and several detectives, as a posh tour group on an around-the-world-cruise is bedeviled by a multiple murderer along the way, with Charlie Chan's Honolulu literally the last stop. Well, at least for the murderer. Most of the detective work is actually done by Scotland Yard via nicely nebbishy Chief Inspector Duff and his minions, who follow the tour group around the world after it has the effrontery to leave a dead body in a posh London hotel. I wonder if Biggers wasn't having a bit of a go at the reader here, i.e., a reference to 'lead on, MacDuff!!' - as Charlie actually does 'carry on!' from Duff for the last quarter of the novel or so, when the British detective becomes a casualty too, and no, I'm not telling you if he dies or not.

It's a classic in form, content, plot, and execution, carefully crafted by a master workman, populated by almost-stereotypes, set in perfectly glorious (if a mite sketchy) foreign locales. The twists are easily guessed now, and possibly were even in 1932 when this was first printed. The getting there was the most interesting thing about both the tour and the novel; the denouement is, if not exactly flat, awfully stage-y. All the well-worn, much beloved, slightly scruffy bits'n'pieces of a decent mystery novel of the period are here: motley crew of suspects, doubting phlegmatic detective sergeants, a bit of comic relief, a sturdy plot, and some truly nice guys (and gals) to root for. Plus several characters you love to hate. And a murderer who almost flies under the radar completely, but Biggers plays fair - you might guess the killer, but you'll need to winnow out a lot of information first, and he offers a whole pack of possible killers before that conclusion.

For those who enjoy classic puzzle plots with a bit of second-hand travel, mixed with an interesting look at social stratification of the period, this is prime stuff. Yes, Charlie Chan is a rather extreme stereotype, but it's not as strong here as the movies made him seem. Plus in this novel there is the definite feeling that he's having us on quite completely with his pidgin English and deliberate misunderstanding of behaviors of the mainly British cast. Bottom line: he pretty much fools the suspects too, which was probably the intent, and he IS the one who solves the case. Biggers was a very sly man, I think. The novel pokes fun at pretty much every ethnic group and social layer, not just at Chan - the author is quite egalitarian about it. All nationalities and sorts of folks come under his very sharp pen: the classy Brits, the not-so-classy Brits, their stolid policemen, the snobby rich and/or up'n'coming Americans, the lazy French, the disinterested Italians and all the peripheral bit players, including Chan's dim-witted but oh-so-earnest-and-hardworking Japanese sergeant. And Biggers was a good enough writer to make you see the truisms in the stereotypes. Nevertheless, his quite blunt treatment of social and national types might grate upon the politically correct values held by many folks these days, so be hereby warned: read at your own risk.

I thoroughly enjoyed this journey back in time, especially the laid-back, almost British, classic mystery tone of most of CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON - the nice fast pace, the old-fashioned settings and styles and, oh yes, the puzzle itself. Cleanly worked out, well-presented, and well-twisted, it suffers only a bit for having been used quite often in the ensuing eighty years since. Kudos to Academy Chicago for reprinting the Chan novels, six in all, each complete with a lovely new cover that conveys a sense of the period. Well done!

Reviewed by Abbey Hamilton, January 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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