by Marvin Lachman

EARL DERR BIGGERS – Keeper of the Keys. Bobbs-Merrill, US, hardcover, 1932. Cassell, UK, hc, 1932. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback.

EARL DERR BIGGERS Keeper of the Keys

   I recently went back to a simpler time and reread Keeper of the Keys, by Earl Derr Biggers, the last of the Charlie Chan novels. Those who know Chan only from the B-movies of the ’30s and ’40s will be pleasantly surprised at how readable and well plotted the six books about him are.

   Charlie, at Lake Tahoe to find the missing son of millionaire Dudley Ward, encounters his first taste of snow. The plotting is deft, and there is depth in the portrayal of Chan, especially his reactions to bigotry and “Americanization.”

   Aphorisms, those sayings which occur in most Chan movies, seem more appropriate here as they embody Chan’s detective methods. As he gathers clues, he says, “We must collect in leisure what we may use in haste. The fool in a hurry drinks his tea with a fork.”

   When Chan sits down to weigh the clues, he remarks, “Thought is a lady, beautiful as jade. Events of tonight make me certain I must not neglect the lady’s company longer.”

   Most mysteries written more than fifty years ago are far more dated. Fortunately, those in the Chan series are notable exceptions.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer 1988          (slightly revised).