Two World-Class Sleuths: One Small Burg – Warren, Ohio

     “Mr. Chan, allow me introduce Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, who also holds title as 8th Earle of Asherton. Lord Lynley, meet our guest Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu police.”

     “Hello Inspector Chan,” said Lynley. “Your reputation precedes you. I’ve heard many accounts of your accolades from our mutual friend, Inspector Duff. It’s wonderful to finally make your acquaintance.” Lynley, tall and polished, stepped forward extending a hand to his visitor.

     Chan bowed low then raised up, a large grin appearing on his face. “Likewise, to be sure,” he said taking Lynley’s hand. “Kind words of eminent Scotland Yard Inspector remain etched on scroll of memory for all time.”

The fall of 2012, I attended my first Bouchercon (famed world mystery writers convention). I was ecstatic it was being held in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and the list of attendees and guests of honor was (here it comes)…“to die for!”  Toastmaster, John Connolly; Distinguished Contribution to the Genre, Robin Cook; Lifetime Achievement, Mary Higgins Clark; Hometown Host, Les Roberts; and an author born in Warren, Ohio, who I was particularly anxious to meet, Elizabeth George! There were other seedy characters walking the corridors. I passed a gentleman in the hall and got a nod from Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher stories. And I spotted Cara Black, creator of Parisian sleuth Aimee Leduc, down another corridor. Too many great authors to mention here, it was overwhelming!

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But I was also on a mission. I knew that Author Elizabeth George, creator of the Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers series, hailed from Warren, Ohio—same place as Author Earl Derr Biggers, creator of Chinese-Hawaiian Detective Charlie Chan. And like the Chan mysteries, her famed Inspector Lynley novels are recognized around the globe and were published in 30 languages. So I, being an active participant on the Charlie Chan Family Home website (the link is at right on my homepage), was duty bound to meet her and draw out her thoughts on being from the same town as Biggers! Did his novels in any way influence her becoming a mystery writer? How did she feel about the author, his creation, and how did she see the literary sleuth in today’s politically correctthe House without a key environment? Did she think there was a chance of a return or reinvention of Biggers’ mostly forgotten detective? Surely, I would be the only person to bring up the topic. And quite possibly, she might invite me for a coffee or drink at the hotel lounge to continue the discussion in more detail! I would report back the details to the Chan Family Home webmaster, Rush Glick, and he would make it a permanent entry into “The Study,” on his website.

Readied, I’d formulated my approach to the subject during the book signing event hosted the third or fourth day. Ms. George was seated along with other famous authors behind a table and the line, as you can image, was long. And understandable so. The Inspector Lynley series was also made into a popular BBC Television series and shown often on PBS and other stations. I lingered long as possible, so I could position myself last in-line. The book signings were winding down, but that was alright. I knew when my turn came and I spoke, “Hello, Ms. George. I understand you are originally from Warren, Ohio, same hometown as Author Earl Derr Biggers,” she would immediately perk up. Any exhaustion from greeting fans and answering the same questions over and over, would completely evaporate. She would look up at me, startled, and with awe say, “Why you’re the first person to ever mention that!”

Only a few people left in front of me. The room was starting to empty, but my turn was coming. Then, my moment arrived. There I was standing in front of this great author and Chan hometown alumni with book in hand. She spoke, “Hello. Thank you for buying my book, how would you like me to sign it.” “Lou Armagno, a pleasure,” I said. “Well, I haven’t yet read them all, so please put whatever you deem appropriate.” She smiled and said, “alright.” Then, she signed it, “To Lou, your job is to read them all,” and handed it back. I replied, “Thank you. I understand you are originally from the same hometown as author Earl Derr Biggers, Warren, Ohio.” She looked at me, tilted her head, and replied, “Really, I don’t recognize the name.” I was speechless. I froze. She looked at me expectantly, and I realized I had to speak. “He’s the creator of Charlie Chan,” I said. She replied, “Who?” “You know,” I followed. “The Chinese-Hawaiian Detective who spoke aphorisms?” She replied, “Oh yes. I seem to remember seeing one or two of those movies growing up. Who did you say was the author? I did not know he was from Warren.”

So, with deflated ego in tow I slumped out of the book signing room. There was no follow-on meeting in the lounge later. And I had no grandiose story for the Charlie Chan Family Home “Study”. Later, I learned from her website that Ms. George is not a big reader of crime novels or mysteries. And should she pick one up it’s usually true crime. Still, it was a very exciting convention and truly a pleasure to meet Ms. George. And I did find some solace in knowing she had seen some of the Chan movies. If you haven’t read one of her Inspector Lynley mysteries, you’ve missed out. They’re a treat, and to my thinking a crossovers between the golden age of detective fiction and the modern American mystery. There are 20 novels to date, so should you desire you can spend many evening with her two Scotland Yard sleuths!

Last, I did have a drink in the lobby lounge and an opportunity to chat with renowned Sherlock Holmes expert, Mr. Leslie S. Klinger; author of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes series and subject matter consult on the more recent Sherlock Holmes films featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Mr. Clinger recently analyzed the first Chan novel The House Without a Key (1925), in his 2018 release, Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920s. I remember our encounter well. He was walking through the bar looking around and stopped near my table. I introduced myself, commented on his work, and mentioned I was a big Charlie Chan fan and asked was he familiar with the detective? He looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, I’m looking for someone I really need to speak with. Nice meeting you,” and left.

All-in-all, the event can be summarized as “Close Encounters of the Literary Kind!” Still, it was a treat to meet “the other” world-class mystery author from Warren, Ohio. Perhaps, if there’s a next time, I’ll follow the author’s advice in Behind that Curtain (1928), “Every frog ought to stick to its own pond.”

4 thoughts on “Two World-Class Sleuths: One Small Burg – Warren, Ohio

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