Sunday, April 28, 2024

The lazy latitudes

Exploring again at Standard EBooks I've come across Earl Derr Biggars' The House Without a Key, described on the site:
Published in 1925, The House Without a Key introduces the kindly detective Charlie Chan, conceived by Earl Derr Biggers as a counter to the “Yellow Peril” stereotypes common in the era’s society.

John Quincy Winterslip, having been sent by his family to convince his aunt to return to Boston, arrives in Honolulu to find that a rich family member with a shady past has been murdered. Detective Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department recruits John to aid in the investigation. As he works to uncover the murderer, John learns about Chinese culture—and true love.
There were six books in the Charlie Chan mystery series published in the 1920s and early thirties. The Chan in the books avoids most of the steriotypes of East Asians common in a time when the US had severe restrictions on immigration from that part of the world.

The image on the right is of the cover of the book in my library, a facsimile of the 1925 first edition.

I enjoy Biggars' writing. These are the first paragraphs of the first chapter, introducing some important characters, and the setting is Waikiki in the 1920s:
Kona Weather

Miss Minerva Winterslip was a Bostonian in good standing, and long past the romantic age. Yet beauty thrilled her still, even the semi-barbaric beauty of a Pacific island. As she walked slowly along the beach she felt the little catch in her throat that sometimes she had known in Symphony Hall, Boston, when her favorite orchestra rose to some new and unexpected height of loveliness.

It was the hour at which she liked Waikiki best, the hour just preceding dinner and the quick tropic darkness. The shadows cast by the tall coconut palms lengthened and deepened, the light of the falling sun flamed on Diamond Head and tinted with gold the rollers sweeping in from the coral reef. A few late swimmers, reluctant to depart, dotted those waters whose touch is like the caress of a lover. On the springboard of the nearest float a slim brown girl poised for one delectable instant. What a figure! Miss Minerva, well over fifty herself, felt a mild twinge of envy⁠—youth, youth like an arrow, straight and sure and flying. Like an arrow the slender figure rose, then fell; the perfect dive, silent and clean.

Miss Minerva glanced at the face of the man who walked beside her. But Amos Winterslip was oblivious to beauty, he had made that the first rule of his life. Born in the Islands, he had never known the mainland beyond San Francisco. Yet there could be no doubt about it, he was the New England conscience personified⁠—the New England conscience in a white duck suit.

“Better turn back, Amos,” suggested Miss Minerva. “Your dinner’s waiting. Thank you so much.”

“I’ll walk as far as the fence,” he said. “When you get tired of Dan and his carryings-on, come to us again. We’ll be glad to have you.”

“That’s kind of you,” she answered, in her sharp crisp way. “But I really must go home. Grace is worried about me. Of course, she can’t understand. And my conduct is scandalous, I admit. I came over to Honolulu for six weeks, and I’ve been wandering about these islands for ten months.”

“As long as that?”

She nodded. “I can’t explain it. Every day I make a solemn vow I’ll start packing my trunks⁠—tomorrow.”

“And tomorrow never comes,” said Amos. “You’ve been taken in by the tropics. Some people are.”

“Weak people, I presume you mean,” snapped Miss Minerva. “Well, I’ve never been weak. Ask anybody on Beacon Street.”

He smiled wanly. “It’s a strain in the Winterslips,” he said. “Supposed to be Puritans, but always sort of yearning toward the lazy latitudes.” .... (more)

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