Apple, A.E. Mr. Chang of Scotland Yard. New York: Chelsea House, 1926, pp.255.
Mr. Chang of Scotland Yard began life as a story, with the same title, in the January 3, 1925 issue of Detective Story Magazine, a Street and Smith publication. Chelsea House was the book publishing arm of the pulp publisher Street and Smith. The novel Mr. Chang of Scotland Yard is composed of what appears to be two separate Mr. Chang stories. (The two stories run together to form a continuous narrative. The second story is not titled but appears to be “The Glittering Lady” from Detective Story Magazine, May 16, 1925.) A.E. Apple published 33 Mr. Chang stories from 1919 through 1931 in the pages of Detective Story Magazine.
“The Chinaman raked the jack pot toward him. His long and tapering fingers, with the glistening nails of one who never did an honest day’s work in his life, fondled the bank notes. Deftly he counted, then tucked the money into a hidden inner pocket of his coat.” Such is our introduction to Mr. Chang. Mr. Chang is a criminal, a thief and a murderer of the first order. In the first story Mr. Chang, along with a hapless dupe intend to steal the Falding rubies. Jerry Falding is the “richest man in the village of Rising Sun” and has a fondness for rubies, which he collects and keeps in his house. The entire village is aware of his collection and Mr. Chang, posing as a Scotland Yard detective, plans to steal the collection. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned. For one, Mr. Chang gets locked into the Falding household. It turns out that the house itself is a giant safe that Mr. Chang ends up needing to break out of, instead of into.
The second story involves the planned theft of “a million dollars’ worth of beautiful diamonds” set into a cloak worn by the Princess Dagmar ne Patricia Marlowe, an American girl playing the Oriental princess in a show. Through it all, Detective Eugene Lontana of Scotland Yard pursues Mr. Chang, who manages to keep pretty much one step ahead of him. A chance encounter leads Lontana to Chang’s Montreal lair.
Mr. Chang has been called “Canada’s version of Mr. Fu Manchu.” Mr Chang was quite popular in his day and the extant pulps containing his stories are quite collectable. Never the less, only two Mr. Chang novels were ever published and the remainder of the Mr. Chang stories remain, to my knowledge, locked away in the pages of the original pulps. They have not been reprinted to date. As is evidenced by the quote above, the Mr. Chang stories were very much a product of their time. The sexism is quite staggering: “Why not quit now, Patty? At the end of the road, a career is only a bubble. There is no real happiness except in a home.” This is spoken by the beau of the princess Dagmar. The racism is quite offence to contemporary sensibilities. Fu Manchu had a level of nobility of character and purpose. He was, after all, trying to conquer the world. Mr. Chang is simply a criminal, out to steal as much as he can.
Still, the stories are decently written. They are told somewhat from the perspective of the criminal. Chang is no Raffles though. It’s all business for Chang and if he has to kill someone along the way, well that’s just how is has to be. Chang is in it for the money. It’s nothing personal on his part. It is pretty personal on everyone else’s part. There are lots of general hatred directed towards Mr. Chang and the Oriental in general by pretty much everyone in the book. I got the sense that even if Chang wanted to lead a life of lawfulness (which he does not wish to do, crime is his chosen profession) he would be prevented from doing so by the community around him. Just walking down the street in Montreal’s Chinatown he is accosted by the police and made to give an account of his actions.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed were the Canadian references. Much of the action takes place Montreal with references to Chinatown’s Legauchetiere Street, the Chateau de Ramezay, Windsor Station and the ubiquitous St. Catherine Street.