Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"He Has Discovered At Least One New Trick in the Detective Story Writer's Bag"

By Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933).
Grosset & Dunlap.
1925. 316 pages. $2.00
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Filmed in 1926 (IMDb) and 1933 (IMDb).
The House Without a Key, the first Charlie Chan novel, has been reprinted and commented upon many, many times in the past ninety years, so we'll confine ourselves to contemporary reviews:
[Full review] Readers of "Seven Keys to Baldpate" will not be surprised to find in Mr. Biggers's new tale an entertaining story well told, with a dash of humor to give spice to its mystery, and skilfully sketched in background to lend glamour to its incidents.
By setting his narrative in Hawaii Mr. Biggers has achieved a double purpose:—he has lent plausibility to the informalities of its episodes and he has given it a jocular cast by his depiction of the transformation of Brahmin New England character under the insidious influences of climate and beauty. His Miss Minerva, product of super-Boston culture, whose alarmed relatives send out her no less aristocratic nephew, John Quincy Winterslip, to rescue her from dangerous dalliance in dolce far niente Waikiki, and John Quincy himself, with his allegiances, his inhibitions, and his strain of the roaming Winterslip blood leading him on to adventure after adventure in his search of a clue to the murder of his uncle, Dan Winterslip, are more vividly realized characters than those that people the great ruck of mystery tales.
Mr. Biggers has a nice turn for a humorous situation—the closing incident of his book is delightfully amusing—and he has discovered at least one new trick in the detective story writer's bag. We find his Chinese detective a trifle wooden, but he preserves a becoming modesty, and he shares honors in the end with another. Altogether an interesting tale. — "The New Books," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (May 2, 1925; scroll to page 732, top left)
[Full review] A detective story; a murder mystery, in the unusual setting of Honolulu, and with the further novelty of a pleasing Chinese detective. The reader of the book is in for two or three hours of genuine entertainment. By the author of "Seven Keys to Baldpate" and other good stories. The price is also a mystery; probably $2. — "Notes on New Books," THE OUTLOOK (May 13, 1925)
[Full review] Only the strong-minded will put down this book before the last page, and then they will be sorry. It is a vivid, brilliantly written thriller, with a mysterious murder—the motive, marriage-plus-money.
We are introduced to the Boston family of Winterslip, five of whom are the principal figures in the exciting drama, which is enacted at Waikiki (Hawaii).
It is stated that Honolulu is chiefly peopled with New Englanders—"Puritans with a touch of sun," always yearning toward the lazy latitudes.
Dan Winterslip, a rich old retired "blackbirder," lives at Waikiki in the House without a Key—a great rambling house which would shock sedate Bostonians as "too lurid to be quite respectable."
Miss Minerva Winterslip, from Boston, staying with Dan, had been to a native Hawaiian feast or luau, thus satisfying a dear desire. It was a moonlight night, fascinating; and leaving her car on the kerb she strolls up to the house. Gently she pushes open the unlocked door admitting to Dan's great living-room, and closes it quietly so as not to wake him—over the polished floor on tiptoe, half-way to the hall door. Then she stops. Not five feet away she sees the luminous dial of a watch, worn on someone's wrist who thinks he is hidden . . . Dan is murdered.
What follows—the clues, the detectives and the rest—is handled admirably. And over all is the atmosphere of romance and the colour of life. Mr. Biggers writes so well that we forget everything but the unravelling of his mystery. — "Novel Notes," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (October 1926)
- A spoilerless Wikipedia article about the book is HERE.
- Biggers's first novel was scrutinized on ONTOS HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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