The Chinese Parrot -- The Second Charlie Chan Novel

"Yes. And I saw him at the station the other morning. Look at tomorrow's Eldorado Times and you'll find the big story, under the personals. 'Our respected fellow townsman, Mr. Louie Wong, went to San Francisco on business last Wednesday.'"

"Wednesday, eh? What sort of lad is Louie?"

". . . Been in these parts a long time. For the past five years he's stayed at Madden's ranch the year round, as caretaker. I don't know a great deal about him. He's never talked much to any one round here—except the parrot."

"The parrot? What parrot?"

"His only companion on the ranch. A little gray Australian bird that some sea captain gave Madden several years ago. Madden brought the bird—its name is Tony—here to be company for the old caretaker. A rough party, Tony—used to hang out in a barroom on an Australian boat. Some of his language when he first came was far from pretty. But they're clever, those Australian parrots. You know, from associating with Louie, this one has learned to speak Chinese."

"Amazing," said Bob Eden.

"Oh, not so amazing as it sounds. A bird of that sort will repeat anything it hears. So Tony rattles along in two languages. A regular linguist. The ranchers round here call him the Chinese parrot."

--From The Chinese Parrot, Chapter V (Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1926)

Charlie Chan comes to the mainland in the second Chan novel, The Chinese Parrot. He has always wanted to travel to the mainland and to other places. (In The House Without a Key, Chan tells John Quincy Winterslip, “I have unlimited yearning for travel” (Chapter XX).

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In this adventure he has been commissioned to act as courier and to deliver the famous “Phillimore fortune” pearls from the once-wealthy Jordan family to the currently wealthy businessman P.J. Madden. The transaction is undertaken by Eden Jewelers in San Francisco.

The delivery of the pearls is originally scheduled to take place in New York City but Madden calls Alexander Eden to request that it be delivered to him at his ranch in Arizona instead. Alexander Eden sends his son Bob to oversee the delivery.

The matriarch of the Jordan family has asked Charlie Chan, who worked for her when he was a young man, to deliver the pearls. In Chapter 1, we learn:

Eden sank wearily into a chair. "Well, that's that. He [referring to P.J. Madden] rather wears one out. I wanted to stick for a higher figure, but it looked hopeless. Somehow, I knew he always wins."

"Yes," said Madame Jordan, "he always wins."

"By the way, Sally, I didn't want you to tell that secretary who was bringing the pearls. But you'd better tell me."

"Why, of course. Charlie's bringing them."


"Detective-Sergeant Chan, of the Honolulu police. Long ago, in the big house on the beach, he was our number-one boy."

"Chan. A Chinese?"

"Yes. Charlie left us to join the police force, and he's made a fine record there. He's always wanted to come to the mainland, so I've had it all arranged—his leave of absence, his status as a citizen, everything. And he's coming with the pearls. Where could I have found a better messenger? Why—I'd trust Charlie with my life—no, that isn't very precious any more. I'd trust him with the life of the one I loved dearest in the world."

"He's leaving tonight, you said."

"Yes—on the President Pierce. It's due late next Thursday afternoon."

But Chan disappears. When Bob Eden arrives at P.J. Madden’s ranch, he discovers that Chan has disguised himself as a houseboy/cook and has been hired by Madden to replace Louie Wong—Madden’s cook who has disappeared.

Charlie’s suspicions are aroused when Tony, the Chinese parrot, says, “Help! Help! Murder!”

Because parrots don’t converse but, rather, imitate sounds, Charlie believes that Tony is merely repeating what he has heard. Chan surmises, therefore, that there has been murder done and that Louie was the victim.

Was P.J. Madden complicit in the crime if, indeed, Chan is correct? Or is he perhaps being blackmailed? Is he colluding with his secretary, Martin Thorn? Who are the other participants in this drama and what roles do they play?

And, of course, Charlie Chan is as likeable as he is in The House Without a Key. We learn he has ten children (not nine, as my edition of The House Without a Key states).

Biggers writes in Chapter XVI:

Eden tried a book. An hour later he was interrupted by the peal of the telephone bell, and a cheery voice answered his hello.

"Still pining for the bright lights?"

"I sure am," he replied.

"Well, the movies are in town," said Paula Wendell. "Come on in."

He hurried to his room. Chan had built a fire in the patio, and was sitting before it, the warm light flickering on his chubby impassive face. When Eden returned with his hat, he paused beside the detective.

"Getting some new ideas?" he asked.

"About our puzzle?" Chan shook his head. "No. At this moment I am far from Madden's ranch. I am in Honolulu where nights are soft and sweet, not like chilly desert dark. Must admit my heart is weighed a little with homesick qualms. I picture my humble house on Punchbowl Hill, where lanterns glow and my ten children are gathered round."

"Ten!" cried Eden. "Great Scott--you are a father."

"Very proud one," assented Chan. . . .

Earl Derr Biggers was a master of plot. He skillfully weaves romance and suspense into the novel. Although I, personally, find this the weakest of the six Chan novels that Biggers wrote, it is still a fine example of the detective, crime, and murder mystery genre from the beginning of the “Golden Age” period. Many readers have given The Chinese Parrot very high ratings in Amazon’s reviews for this book; In The Mystery Lover’s Companion [New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1986) Art Bourgeau rates it five daggers (his highest rating for a book). It leads to a surprising climax and is satisfying, after all.

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