For many of us, the name "Charlie Chan" brings back memories of a series of black-and-white movies from the 1930s and 1940s, as seen while watching late-night TV while growing up. To us, Charlie Chan was an American detective, quite obviously oriental, who mouthed sometimes offensive platitudes, the kind that were all too prevalent in those early days. It may come as something of a shock, then, to meet the original Charlie Chan, whose first appearance was in "The House Without a Key," by Earl Derr Biggers, published in 1925.
As created by Biggers, Charlie Chan was a fascinating character, a brilliant detective of Chinese-Hawaiian origin, working on the Honolulu police force. He often faced the kind of racial prejudice that was very common in those days, but he overcame it, earning the respect of virtually everyone.
"The House Without a Key" tells the story of a murder in Honolulu, its impact on a family of New England aristocrats, and how a family member and Chan worked their way through to a solution. You can hear a full audio review on this week's podcast. If you remember Charlie Chan from those heavily-stereotyped movies, you may want to see how his appearance in this book shattered those stereotypes.