EARL DERR BIGGERS – Behind That Curtain. Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1928. Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post between March 31 and May 5, 1928. Paperback reprints include: Pocket #191, 1942; Paperback Library 52-296, June 1964; Pyramid, 1969; Bantam, 1974; Mysterious Press, 1987.

   A Charlie Chan mystery, of course, the third of six, and one I first read some 60 odd years ago. I found that I didn’t remember the mystery at all. Only two things came back to me as I was reading. First, the frustration Charlie felt in not being able to return his treasured home town of Honolulu from the mainland (San Francisco) in order to meet his new born son, his eleventh child. The demands of the current case he is working on require him to stay. No loose ends for the noted Detective-Sergeant Chan!

   The second aspect of the tale that I dimly recalled was the romantic elements, the witty courtship between Charlie’s host, wealthy Barry Kirk, and June Morrow, the young female deputy district attorney who is assigned the case. When I read this back sometime in the 1950s, I thought this part of the story was boring, if not out-and-out boring. I was wrong. This time around I found it charming, as in the best of black-and-white light-hearted romantic films made a little later, once movie-makers learned how to make the best use of the new sound techniques available to them.

   Dead is a retired Scotland Yard detective who obsession with two unsolved cases, possibly related, has brought him all the way from England to California. All his notes are also stolen, indicating that he was closing in on bringing one to a conclusion, that of a young 18-year-old girl, a new bride who disappeared without a trace in Peshawar, India, fifteen years ago.

   The case is extremely complicated. There are plenty of suspects and lots of clues, many of them relevant, but equally many that are not, and all of them have to be checked out, as well as alibis. Adding to the pleasure of the reading this old-fashioned traditional mystery is Biggers’ dialogue and prose, which simply flows.

   I don’t know that this is exactly a fair play mystery, but the solution to the crime is very clever, and the romance? Well, all’s well that ends well, and this one does.