Sunday, December 31, 2023

Charlie Chan Carries On (1930) by Earl Derr Biggers

And now, more Charlie Chan!

Charlie Chan Carries On is the sixth novel in the series. (Keeper of the Keys was the seventh. I read them in reverse without realizing.) This time, the action kicks off in England, when a deaf old man is found strangled to death in his hotel room. Complicating matters is that the man is a member of a round-the-world tour, and most of his fellow travelers barely know him. Chief Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard is assigned to investigate this seemingly motiveless crime.

“But wait!” I hear you cry, “Isn’t this a Charlie Chan novel?”

It is, dear reader, but besides a mention and a letter in the first chapter, it’ll be a while before he shows up.

From the beginning, this book shows more vim than Keeper. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this (Keeper was written a year before his death and I don’t know how his health was at the time), but I was more engaged with this book than I was with Keeper. The round-the-world tour is a good set-up, and while Biggers doesn’t always make the best use of the constantly shifting local (beyond Italy, where we get a reminder that this is during Mussolini’s rule: “They would bring Il Duce himself into the affair”), it does keep the story moving. This book has quite a large cast. There’s the head of the tour, Doctor (of Philosophy!) Lofton. There’s Patrick Tait, a lawyer with a heart issue. There’s also Walter Honywood, a nervous man who knows more than he’s telling. There’s also Norman Fenwick, a man who will be a bigger thorn in Duff’s side than the murderer, along with his wife. You also have Max Minchin, a former(?) racketeer and his wife, among numerous others. “Some queer characters had certainly crept into Lofton’s Round the World Tour this year,” and Biggers deserves credit for keeping them distinct. Only once did I have to stop and think “Who’s this again?”

Unfortunately, the cluing is sparse. Keeper’s cluing might have been broken, but at least there were multiple clues. Here, there’s one (1) clue. It is, in fairness, a good clue. It’s a clue that requires the reader to pay attention, and it would be a good start to a chain of logic that would inexorably lead to the killer. But it’s only one clue. It’s telling how Charlie’s much more incriminating evidence is something he sees but doesn’t describe. I will give Biggers due credit for making his killer one of the few killers I’ve read in mystery fiction that felt genuinely ruthless. This book has a pretty high body count! I was really sold on the killer being a threat, rather than just someone to be unmasked come the ending.

All in all, I enjoyed this book, but I can’t claim it to be a great mystery. Like its successor, this is a book for when you want something light but engaging. I’d say this is better than Keeper, with more energy and *fun* running through it. Recommended.

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