Behind That Curtain by Earl Derr Biggers, 1928, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928 hardcover. My copy: Avenel Books omnibus edition, 1988
This is the third of the five Charlie Chan novels Biggers wrote, and the third I’ve read, because, you see, I’m reading them in order.
After the success of the first two books, House Without A Key and The Chinese Parrot, Chan was a world-wide favorite. The Saturday Evening Post paid Biggers $25,000 to serialize this Chan book, a tidy sum in 1927. Then he was paid by the book publisher, and later he sold the film rights to Fox.
Chan is in San Francisco, about to take a ship back to his home in Hawaii. He is invited to a dinner to meet Sir Frederic Bruce, a famous retired Scotland Yard Inspector and also to hear a lecture and see films by famous explorer Colonel John Beetham, recently returned from Tibet.
Bruce, in a conversation the previous day, has admitted that though he’s retired, he still has an interest in some cases involving women who disappeared; just walked off into the night and were never heard of again. The most intriguing of these is Eve Durand, who disappeared fifteen years before, in Peshawar, India. He also, it turns out, is trying to discover what became of two other women. Those who just disappear, never to be seen again, hold a fascination for him.
This is a typical mystery for it’s time, and a good Chan mystery. There is, this time, a set group of suspects, who were all in an apartment for a dinner and film showing when the murder takes place, the lights turned low, the way to the murder location open to all. So who had the motive, and means?
Yes, the characters are a bit cardboard, but does it matter if the pieces are paper or jade if they are moved skillfully on the board? The sense of place is good, the situations only as predictable as expected for this type of mystery, and there’s not the silliness of the films. If you haven’t read a Chan novel, I’d start with The House Without A Key but they are all good reading, and good fun.
The Charlie Chan novels are:
The House Without a Key
The Chinese Parrot
Behind That Curtain
The Black Camel
Keeper of the Keys