Earl Derr Biggers. Fifty Candles (1926) 159
The story begins in a courtroom in Honolulu in 1898 with the deportation
case of a Chinese man unable to satisfactorily prove his American citizenship.
It then moves to China where a young American mining engineer named Winthrop
has spent considerable time making huge profits for the mine’s owner, Henry
Drew. Then, finally to fog-bound San Francisco in 1918 where Winthrop lands
after breaking with Drew, feeling he has been cheated out of his rightful
interest in the mine. By coincidence he shares a cabin on the boat from
China with Drew himself. After they disembark, Drew unexpectedly invites
Winthrop to his Nob Hill home that evening to discuss a business proposition.
Against his better judgment, Winthrop accepts the invitation. When he arrives,
he discovers that he is attending a fiftieth birthday party. When Drew
is found murdered, Winthrop is immediately suspected. But there are plenty
of other suspects, each with their own motive for wanting Drew dead. When
Drew’s estranged son, Mark, arrives, he and the police conduct a swift
investigation to nab the killer. Fifty Candles was first published
in magazine form in 1921, two years after Biggers visited Hawaii on vacation
where he first came up with the idea for his most famous creation, Charlie
Chan. The story predates the first Charlie Chan mystery (The House Without
a Key, published in 1925), but many of the elements used in that series
are present: Chinese characters (both sinister and sympathetic), the Honolulu
legal system, a competent detective, and a tangled web of mystery. The
story was the basis for a 1921 silent film directed by Irvin Willat.
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