Yunte Huang - Charlie Chan (4 stars)

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Yunte Huang - Charlie Chan

(WW Norton)

Chinese-American academic Yunte Huang’s biography of the popular Oriental sleuth, star of six bestselling novels published from the mid-1920s on and upwards of 50 Hollywood films that followed, proves to be a pretty solid piece of investigation in its own right. Huang unearths the not-at-all obvious link between the American midwestern caucasian author of the novels, Earl Derr Biggers, and the Hawaii-based Chinese policeman, Chang Apana, who was the inspiration for the detective who brought his own unique brand of china cookie wisdom to crime solving.

In doing so, Huang makes a bold case for rescuing Charlie Chan from being vilified as a racially stereotyped Chinaman and, beyond that, he outlines a compelling narrative of the Chinese-American experience. The book’s only weak link is its author’s unnecessary attempt to personalise the story by writing himself into it in a series of relatively dull field research trips.

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