A Charlie Chan Novel: The Chinese Parrot by Earl Derr Biggers

I didn’t finish this one. And an unfinished read equates to a quick review. Sorry.

My issue isn’t because it was uncomfortably, yet hilariously racist. I knew what I was getting into buying a Charlie Chan novel and I accept that it was a product of its time seeing as it was first published in 1926 (the copy I have is from 1953) so it was probably seen as radically progressive to have an ethnic minority as the hero. Biggers probably thought that having Charlie Chan declare the “Chinese are very psychic people” was a real stand against racism.

My problem was the inconsistency. Biggers couldn’t decide if he wanted an action-paced detective story or a clever whodunit, Agatha Christie style. There were too many characters for it to be a contained crime like Poirot or Marple, but the crime was too dull (theft of an expensive necklace and a talking parrot) to justify the stalking and the threats.

I also hate any crime fiction that uses supernatural elements (like dreams or intuition without proper explanations) to solve it; the very nature of crime fiction is the deduction process. The reader does not necessarily have to be able to solve the crime, but there needs to be an element of mystery and logic. Psychic abilities, therefore, is the most dishonest use of the deus ex machina that I can think of, and you have to be an incredibly lazy writer to rely on this ass-pull (almost as lazy as characterising an entire group of people on incorrect stereotypes instead of researching about them). And with the previous declaration from our “Oriental Detective” on the psychic abilities of the Chinese, I thought it better to jump ship rather than invest any more time into the plot.

But I don’t regret purchasing it from my Melbourne trip because I think it’s an important excerpt in Crime Fiction history because Charlie Chan was probably the first major incident where an Asian character was portrayed in what I grudgingly concede to be a favourable light in Western pop culture. I’m glad I own a copy, though I can see why it’s no Poirot and didn’t stand the test of time.

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