The House Without a Key
|Author||Earl Derr Biggers|
|Series||Charlie Chan mysteries|
|Publisher||Bobbs-Merrill (1st edition, USA); Harrap (1st edition, UK)|
|1925 (1st edition)|
|Media type||Print (Paperback (1st edition))|
|ISBN||0-553-08446-1 (Paperback edition (1974) by Bantam (USA)|
|Followed by||The Chinese Parrot|
The House Without a Key is a 1925 novel by Earl Derr Biggers, the first of the Charlie Chan mysteries. Set in 1920s Hawaiʻi, the novel acquaints the reader with the look and feel of the islands from the standpoint of both white and non-white inhabitants, describing social class structures and customs of the era.
The novel deals with the murder of a former member of Boston society who has lived in Hawaiʻi for a number of years. The main character is the victim's nephew, a straitlaced young Bostonian bond trader, who came to the islands to try to convince his aunt Minerva, whose vacation has extended many months, to return to Boston. The nephew, John Quincy Winterslip, soon falls under the spell of the islands himself, meets an attractive young woman, breaks his engagement to his straitlaced Bostonian fiancee Agatha, and decides as the murder is being solved to move to San Francisco. In the interval, he is introduced to many levels of Hawaiian society and is of some assistance to Detective Charlie Chan in solving the mystery.
Literary significance and criticism
The novel is remarkable in two respects. First, although Chan is ostensibly the detective, his role in the book is fairly small. He does figure out the solution to the case, but it is at the same time as Winterslip, and it is the Bostonian who has the honor of collaring the murderer.
Second, the novel's portrayal of the Chinese, specifically Charlie Chan, is forward-looking for its era. The Bostonians find it hard to accept a Chinese detective on the case, but the locals know him by reputation and show him respect. While some of the descriptions evince some of the stereotypes of the day, Chan is portrayed sympathetically, as an equal to the whites that surround him. (Indeed, Charlie Chan's superior, a white Captain of Detectives, puts him on the case and trusts him completely.)
It was adapted for film twice, as The House Without a Key in 1926 and as Charlie Chan's Greatest Case in 1933. In 1942 it was adapted for the stage by Jean Lee Latham, and played in Chicago. Another dramatisation by Hal Glatzer played at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Hawai'i in 2009.
Charlie Chan does not speak his first word until page 82 (first paperback edition).
- 1932-, Lachman, Marvin (2014). The villainous stage : crime plays on Broadway and in the West End. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9534-4. OCLC 903807427.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- Charlie Chan, The Enduring Detective by Marv Lachman
- Weiss, Don and Phyllis (28 October 1989). "Sleuthing The Elusive Trail Of Charlie Chan's Hawaii". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 19 May 2014.