Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Chinese Parrot - Earl Derr Biggers (1926)

I thought this was great fun.  Instead of Hawaii the action moves to the mainland. It opens in San Francisco then moves on to a Southern California desert town called El Dorado.  Biggers has created some very American characters here and his gift for snappy dialogue makes the book all the more enjoyable.  Chan has a much larger role here and as mentioned above is undercover in the role of a Chinese "boy of all work" called Ah Kim who cooks, tends to fireplaces and even acts as chauffeur. He teams up with the son of a jeweler, Bob Eden, to uncover some obvious criminal doings at the home of P. J. Madden, a millionaire intent on buying the valuable pearl necklace.  The most baffling of the events is an apparent murder without a body.  Tony, the African gray parrot of the title, is quite a mimic and in addition to spouting forth Chinese phrases he also squawks out, "Help! Help! Murder! Put down that gun!"  Chan is convinced the bird was a witness to a murder.

Discovery of a missing antique gun with two chambers empty, and an attempt to hide a bullet hole in a wall by covering it with a painting, both support the theory of a murder having taken place in Madden's home.  But just who was killed and where did the body go?  Chan may have two white men as his aides in detection in this book, but it is he alone who will unmask the killer in a great finale where we see "his eyes blaze in anger" while covering the villains of the piece with two guns, one in each hand.

Truly, here is an excellent book not only in the series, but in all of early American detective fiction.

NOTE:  A longer review appears here at Mystery*File, where I am a regular contributor.

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