Chan starred in six novels by Earl Derr Biggers between 1925 and 1932 and was a fixture in a long list of movies as well. Here are two excerpts from an unusually informative Wikipedia introduction to Charlie Chan, the latter of which justifies the character's inclusion on this site:
"Biggers conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes, such as villains like Fu Manchu."and
"Chan is a detective of the Honolulu police, though many stories feature Chan traveling the world as he investigates mysteries and solves crimes."
Despite his origin as a counter to odious Asian stereotypes, Mystery Readers Journal's two issues on "The Ethnic Detective" in 2007 included articles called "Farewell Charlie Chan: A Selected History of the Asian American Detective" and "The Post-Charlie Chan Era."
What other fictional detectives were progressive for their time but seem less so now?
***The opening pages of Behind That Curtain show that detective-story writers were already poking explicitly self-referential fun at detective-story conventions as early as 1928, with the rationalistic Holmes/Thorndyke-type stories a special target. ("Except for the fingerprint system and work in the chemical laboratory on stains, scientific research has furnished little assistance to crime detection.") The character who speaks those words is an English detective, by the way, which may be of interest.
The Black Mask era was kicking into high gear at the time. Perhaps Biggers in his own way shared the restlessness with the traditional detective story that drove Hammett, Chandler and others.
Me, I like the first full sentence on Behind That Curtain's second page:
"Even the copy desk was deserted."(Academy Chicago has reissued all six Charlie Chan novels. Here's a bit about Behind That Curtain from the publisher's Web site.
(This just in: Read about "The Man Behind Chan" at The Rap Sheet.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2010