Behind That Curtain --
The third Charlie Chan mystery

At the reporter's side walked, surprisingly light of step, an unimpressive little man with a bulging waistband and a very earnest expression on his chubby face.

"Here we are," Rankin said. "Sir Frederic Bruce---may I present Detective-Sergeant Chan, of the Honolulu police?"

Somewhat at a loss, the Englishman caressed his mustache and smiled down on the detective from Hawaii. As a keen judge of men, already he saw something in those black restless eyes that held his attention.

"I'm happy to know you, Sergeant Chan," he said. "It seems we think alike on certain important points. We should get on well together."

While still on the mainland after having delivered the famous Phillimore pearls to P.J Madden in The Chinese Parrot, Charlie Chan is invited to meet Barry Kirk—wealthy owner of the Kirk Building. Kirk lives on the 21st floor.

Chan’s eleventh child is due to be born any day now, and Chan is scheduled to sail to Honolulu Thursday. (The boat sails once a week.) So Chan has time to join Barry and his invited guests when Colonel John Beetham—a world-famous explorer—gives a slide-show presentation of his recent expedition.

Chan grows to like Barry tremendously, and decides to name his next child after him. 

Chan also is introduced to Sir Frederic Bruce, who is head of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard. Newspaper reporter Bill Rankin introduces the two men because they are both detectives and they think alike:

"A great pleasure," Chan beamed, "to hear that huge mind like Sir Frederic's moves in same groove as my poor head-piece. Intricate mechanics good in books, in real life not so much so. My experience tell me to think deep about human people. Human passions. Back of murder what, always? Hate, greed, revenge, need to make silent the slain one. Study human people at all times."

"Precisely," agreed Sir Frederic. "The human element---that is what counts. I have had no luck with scientific devices. Take the dictaphone-- it has been a complete washout at the Yard." He talked on, while the luncheon progressed. Finally he turned to Chan. "And what have your methods gained you, Sergeant? You have been successful, I hear."

Chan shrugged. "Luck---always happy luck."

When Bruce is murdered, Charlie is asked to investigate.

He makes it clear that he only has a few days to work on the case because he must be in Honolulu to be present for the birth of his new baby. San Francisco is out of his jurisdiction, anyway, since it is Police Chief Flannery’s providence. Chan is happy to support Flannery but is eager to avoid stepping on Flannery’s toes.

When the case remains unsolved on Chan’s scheduled departure date, he provides his assessment of the case and gives pointers to suggest the direction the inquiry should follow. Then he boards the ship.

Miss Morrow and Barry Kirk together plead with Chan to remain on the mainland and participate in the investigation. Even when the announcement is made for visitors to disembark, Miss Morrow puts a bug in Chan’s ear when she intimates that he is leaving San Francisco to save face for not solving the case.

Chan, greatly conflicted between his duty to his wife and his as yet unborn child on the one hand, and his calling as a detective on the other, disembarks at the last minute to stay on the mainland and continue to investigate. But he insists that this is the final time; he must solve it within a week or depart for real this time.


Questions Chan must grapple with include:

  • Who is Eve Durand, and why did she leave her husband, Major Eric Durand in Peshawar?
  • How does Eve’s disappearance relate to the present case?
  • Why did Inspector Frederic Bruce trail Eve from Peshawar to Paris to New York and, finally, to San Francisco?
  • Why did Eve change her name and her appearance and geographical location a number of times?

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Behind That Curtain is much stronger and more complex than Biggers’s previous novel, The Chinese Parrot. Biggers returns to the heights he is capable of accomplishing and has demonstrated in previous books (such as The House Without a Key [the first Charlie Chan book] and Seven Keys to Baldpate [his first published novel, which was an instant international success]).

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Once again, the humble but Great Detective Charlie Chan uses his intuition, intelligence, and natural abilities to attempt to solve an intricate puzzle. Behind That Curtain is a satisfying read and a fine example of the “Golden Age” during the detective, crime, and murder mystery’s development at this stage in its history.


For more information about Charlie Chan, click on the links below to read articles.

The Novels by Earl Derr Biggers:


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