The people invited to dinner in a mansion on the shores of Lake Tahoe, California, were a curious assortment. Most curious among them, perhaps, was Ellen Landini, an opera singer who had been married to four men in turn...all of whom were also present at the gathering, along with a fifth man who, if rumor was correct, was close to becoming her fifth husband. To put it mildly, it is a gathering with the potential for generating a fair amount of tension. There were several other people on hand as well, including Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu police. He was invited by Dudley Ward, the host, who wanted him to find a missing child. What they found instead was murder: before very long, Ellen Landini was dead – shot to death – and her husbands (former, current and possibly future) were all possible suspects, apparently none of them possessing anything like a good alibi. In fact, there are very few clues – and it will be mostly up to Charlie Chan to try to figure out who killed Ellen Landini and why. The key that would unlock the mystery would prove to be in the hand of the Keeper of the Keys - the title of the book by Earl Derr Biggers, first published in 1932. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Keeper of the Keys was the sixth – and last – of Earl Derr Biggers’s mysteries featuring Charlie Chan. By the time it was written, the character of Charlie Chan had already begun appearing in movies, and – to me at least – the Charlie Chan of Keeper of the Keys is very similar to the character as portrayed in the movies by Warner Oland. He is middle-aged, quite rotund, and given to seemingly endless quoting of proverbs and aphorisms. As he observes at one point, “As all those who know me have learned to their distress, Chinese have proverb to fit every possible situation.”
As for the person known as "the keeper of the keys," that would be the elderly Chinese servant, Ah Sing. He and Chan are very different from each other - Ah Sing is very traditional, and the detective finds it difficult to extract the truth from him. But, to the reader's delight, Charlie Chan will follow some pretty amazing twists and turns as he tries to discover the truth behind the murder.
The Charlie Chan movies - especially the early ones, first with Warner Oland and, later, Sidney Toler in the title role - are still great fun to watch, though the stories which started out being based on the books later degenerated somewhat, sometimes into unfortunate racial stereotypes. The books, on the other hand, paint Charlie Chan as a brilliant investigator and a warm and very human detective. That's certainly on display in Keeper of the Keys, and it's very much worth your reading time.