"The moment has charm." -- Charlie Chan
Charlie Chan is in romantic San Francisco in Behind That Curtain. Earl Derr Biggers wrote in a style which lent itself to romance as well as mystery. Perhaps only M.M. Kaye blended the two as perfectly as Biggers. Once embarked on this Chan adventure, one feels the trade winds of Hawaii calling our detective back to Honolulu for the birth of his 11th child. Yet the romance of a misty San Francisco still filled with the orient beckon him to stay and solve just one more crime. Behind That Curtain has so much atmosphere it washes over the reader like a sudden rain shower. Fortunately, we are in the most lovely of 1920's cities, with cable cars and quaint bungalows for shelter. Dark passages and murder do exist here, however, and we can consider ourselves lucky that the elegant Chan has stayed over to guide us away from danger.
Bill Rankin is a reporter with the idea of bringing together the visiting sleuth from Honolulu and Scotland Yard's Sir Frederic Bruce. Their stories of crimes solved will make a good feature. But it is Frederic's regrets in connection to an unsolved murder, and the seemingly unrelated disappearance of Eve Durand from India nearly 15 years prior that haunt the conversation. Barry Kirk and the pretty young D.A. he's immediately smitten with, June Morrow, plead for Charlie to stay when Sir Frederic is murdered. There are as many suspects to ponder over as there are mysterious clues. But which is that elusive 'essential clue' so beloved by Scotland Yard?
Charlie wants none of it, and only once onboard the S.S. Maui, of the famous Matson line, does an overheard conversation in an adjoining cabin have the Chinaman rushing down the gangplank to join Barry and June. They must all contend with Captain Flannery, however, whose methods are as heavy-handed as Charlie's are subtle. Charlie discovers evidence of two other missing young women, and suspects a possible connection to the unsolved Hilary Galt murder. How does a world famous adventurer fit into the picture? Are the slippers the essential clue, or something else? In the end, it is of course our favorite detective from the Islands who realizes the clue has been there all along.
The mystery is as much fun as racing down Nob Hill in a 1920's roadster in search of a clue. There is an innocence to the romance between Barry and June borne of another time. Chan is at the top of his game here, both funny and wise. The final scenes hold both humor, and inevitably, as was Biggers' custom, a dash of the romantic. This Charlie Chan is great fun and has one of the most charming endings of any Biggers wrote. A must read for those who like their mysteries old-fashioned, and a bit on the romantic side.