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Behind That Curtain by Earl Derr Biggers

Behind That Curtain


subjects: Crime & Mystery Fiction

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This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 or less.


The third novel in the Charlie Chan series, set almost exclusively in California, tells the story of the former head of Scotland Yard, a detective who is pursuing the long-cold trail of a murderer. Fifteen years ago, a London solicitor was killed in circumstances in which the only clue was a pair of Chinese slippers, which he apparently donned just before his death. Sir Frederic Bruce has been following the trail of the killer ever since. He has also been interested in what appears to be a series of disappearing women around the world, which has some connection to the disappearance of a woman named Eve Durand in rural India also fifteen years ago. Just when it seems he might finally solve the murder case, at a dinner party to which a number of important and mysterious guests have been invited, Inspector Bruce is killed – and was last seen wearing a pair of Chinese slippers, which have vanished. It is left to Chan to solve the case and tie up all loose ends.

300 pages with a reading time of ~4.75 hours (75156 words), and first published in 1928. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Bill Rankin sat motionless before his typewriter, grimly seeking a lead for the interview he was about to write. A black shadow shot past his elbow and materialized with a soft thud on his desk. Bill’s heart leaped into his throat and choked him.

But it was only Egbert, the office cat. Pretty lonesome round here, seemed to be Egbert’s idea. How about a bit of play? Rankin glared at the cat with deep disgust. Absurd to be so upset by a mere Egbert, but when one has been talking with a great man for over an hour and the subject of the talk has been murder, one is apt to be a trifle jumpy.

He reached out and pushed Egbert to the floor. “Go away,” he said. “What do you mean, scaring me out of a year’s growth? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

His dignity offended, Egbert stalked off through the desert of typewriter tables and empty chairs. Bill Rankin watched him disappear at last through the door leading into the hallway. The hour was five thirty; the street ten stories below was filled with home-going throngs, but up here in the city room of the Globe a momentary quiet reigned. Alone of all the green-shaded lamps in the room, the one above Rankin’s typewriter was alight, shedding a ghastly radiance on the blank sheet of paper in his machine. Even the copy desk was deserted. In his cubby-hole at the rear sat the Globe’s city editor, the only other human thing in sight. And he was not, if you believed the young men who worked for him, so very human at that.

Bill Rankin turned back to his interview. For a brief moment he sat wrapped in thought; then his long, capable fingers sought the keys. He wrote:

 "The flights of genius and miracles of science which solve most of
 the crimes in detective stories have no real part in detective
 work. This is the verdict of Sir Frederic Bruce, former head of the
 Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard.

 "Sir Frederic, who is stopping over for two weeks in San Francisco
 during the course of a trip around the world, is qualified to give
 an expert opinion. For nearly seventeen years he acted as
 Deputy-Commissioner at the head of the most famous detective
 organization in existence, and though he has now retired, his
 interest in crime detection is as keen as ever. Sir Frederic is a
 big man, with a kindly twinkle in his gray eyes, but occasionally
 those eyes have a steely look that made this reporter nervous. If
 we had killed the old Earl of Featherstonehaugh on his rare Persian
 rug, we would not care to have Sir Frederic on our trail. For the
 great detective is that type of Scotchman who is a stranger to
 defeat. He would never abandon the scent.

 "'I read a great deal of detective fiction,' Sir Frederic said. 'It
 amuses me, but there is usually nothing for a detective to learn
 from it. Except for the finger-print system and work in the
 chemical laboratory on stains, scientific research has furnished
 little assistance to crime detection. Murder mysteries and other
 difficult criminal cases are solved by intelligence, hard work and
 luck, with little help from the delicate scientific devices so dear
 to the authors of----'"

Suddenly Bill Rankin stopped writing and sat erect in his uncomfortable chair. There was a familiar ring to the ideas he was setting down on paper; he had heard them before, and recently. Opinions identical with these, expressed not in the polished English of Sir Frederic, but in a quite different idiom—-Ah yes. He smiled, recalling that pudgy little man he had interviewed three days ago in the lobby of the Stewart Hotel.

The reporter rose from his chair and, lighting a cigarette, began to pace the floor. He spoke aloud: “Of course–and I never thought of it. A corking feature story staring me right in the face, and I was blind–blind. I must be losing my grip.” He looked anxiously at the clock, tossed aside his cigarette and resumed his chair. Completing the sentence which he had interrupted midway, he continued:

 "Sir Frederic was asked what he considered the greatest piece of
 detective work within his knowledge.

 "'I can not answer that because of the important part played by
 chance,' he replied. 'As I have just said, most criminal cases are
 solved by varying proportions of hard work, intelligence and luck,
 and I am sorry I must add that of these three, luck is the greatest
 by far.

 "'Hard, methodical work, however, has brought results in many
 instances. For example, it unraveled the famous Crippen mystery.
 The first intimation we had of something wrong in that case came
 when we heard that the woman treasurer of a music-hall----'"