Friday, February 8, 2013
FFB: The Black Camel - Earl Derr Biggers
Strange that though he is a member of the Honolulu Police Department there are only two books in the Chan series that take place in Hawaii. One of those (The House Without a Key) is only partially set there. The Black Camel (1929) is the fourth book in the Chan series and the only one which is set exclusively in Hawaii. It is also the first book in which we meet Chan's family. Well, his wife and four of his eleven children to be specific. Where the other seven kids have gone is never mentioned. For the record those four kids are named Rose, Evelyn, Henry and Barry. Barry is a baby in this book and is named after movie actor Barry Kirk who appeared in the novel Behind That Curtain. There's some hardcore Charlie Chan trivia for you! File that away for this year's Challenge to Reader Trivia contest. There's only one other website that goes into detail about the Chan children as described in the books.
But I digress...
In 1001 Midnights Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller award this book a coveted asterisk marking it as noteworthy in the development of the genre. Marcia Muller, who wrote the entries for Earl Derr Biggers, also says it's the highlight in the Chan series. I have read three of the Chan novels so far and I have to agree with their assessment. For the Hawaiian setting, the tightly constructed plot, the abundance of clues and a neat final surprise you can't beat this book.
Also worth mentioning is the movie version released in 1931. Of the few film adaptations of the Charlie Chan novels The Black Camel is the most faithful to its source material. With the exception of a minor actress all of the characters from the book appear in the movie and all of them retain their original character names. Warner Oland reprises his role as Chan, Bela Lugosi appears as the sinister Tarneverro, and a very youthful Robert Young is cast as the enthusiastic tourism P.R. man Jimmy Bradshaw who also serves as Bigger's typical starry-eyed young lover in a minor subplot. My review of the movie is now posted here.