Mr. Chang’s Crime Ray by A.E. Apple

Apple, A.E., Mr. Chang’s Crime Ray. New York: Chelsea House, 1928, pp. 249.

This is the second of two Mr. Chang novels.  This one is also based on two stories published in Detective Story Magazine.  In this case the stories are “Mr. Chang’s Crime Ray” (9 April 1927) and “The End of Mr. Chang” (28 May 1927).  In this case the stories were actually published one after the other, without intervening stories, unlike the first Mr. Chang novel.

This novel begins exactly where the previous one (Mr. Chang of Scotland Yard) left off.  We are still in Mr. Chang’s Montreal hideaway and Detective Lothana has Chang in custody.  Lothana proceeds to transport Chang to Toronto by train.  Chang escapes enroute.  Exit Chang and exit Lothana.  Lothana disappears from the story completely. One could guess that after finally capturing Chang, after Chang had successfully escaped from him a number of times, this final escape was too much.  While not mentioned, one could easily envision Detective Lothana being demoted to traffic duty, in the far north of England.  Now, Doctor Ling takes over the chase.  Dr. Ling is a Chinese detective brought in to capture Chang by a cabal of wealthy Chinese merchants.  They have grown tired of being preyed upon by Chang.  How does one capture a willy Chinese villain?  Use an even wilier Chinese detective.

The transition from the first Chang book to the second is interesting.  While the novels form a continuous whole, the reality was that there was 2 years and 17 additional stories between the close of Mr. Chang of Scotland Yard and Mr. Chang’s Crime Ray.  The transition pretty much occupies the first chapter.  From there on it is pretty much the story of the Crime Ray.  The disappearance of Lothana and the sudden appearance of Dr. Ling and his rather intimate knowledge of Chang is a bit startling.  I’d like to see the original stories to see how much was actually changed to shoe-horn these two novels together.

Professor Farrada has invented a death ray.  This information comes to the attention of Mr. Chang and Chang decides to steal the death ray to use in his pursuit of wealth.  For it is wealth that Chang is after.  The scheme involves planting a young boy in Farrada’s household.  The boy is to gain the scientist’s trust and pass along information to Mr. Chang.  The plan is for Ned, the young boy, to tell Farrada that he (Ned) has been forced to work for Chang and that Chang intends to steal the death ray!  This is all true of course.  It’s all rather post-modern and quite unexpected in a pulp story.  Ned gains Farrada’s trust by revealing the plot and helps Farrada foil Chang while also helping Chang to steal the ray.  It’s a nice plot trick and the reader is left rather puzzled as to exactly what Ned’s status actually is.  Is he, in fact, working for Chang, or does he actually want to get away from Chang and is helping Farrada and Ling to foil Chang’s plans.  But, Ned’s aiding Farrada and Ling is part of Chang’s plan.  As I said, an unexpected piece of ambiguity on the part of Mr. Apple.  Unfortunately, as the climax of the theft of the death ray approaches, Ned is sent to bed and promptly disappears entirely from the story!

In the latter half of the novel Chang decides to make Dr. Ling the target of his next crime.  He plans to steal the $250,000 dollars being offered as a reward his capture.  The reward is being held by Dr. Ling.  To accomplish this theft, Chang must penetrate into the heart of Dr. Ling’s domain.  Now we have Chinese pitted against Chinese.  Ling has set a trap for Chang but Chang knows that.  As the story progresses Chang escapes from ever increasing complex traps set by Ling.  Will Chang be successful in stealing the reward money, or has he met his match this time?

Some favourite passages:

Nevertheless, thirty-four thousand dollars certainly is not to be sneezed at.  A wage slave, toiling for thirty dollars a week, will find on calculation that it is more than he received in twenty-one years for his treadmill performance.

“I am glad,” he said fervently, “that you have abandoned hope of taking him alive.”

[About Professor Farrada] Conqueror of mysteries, almost uncanny forces, he had never succeeded in conquering himself.  Therein he was human.

As a final note, Apple went on to write 5 more Mr. Chang stories, for a total of 33 stories over a period of nearly 12 years.  Even at this point Apple must have realised that the reign of Mr. Chang was coming to an end.  “The End of Mr. Chang” first appeared in 28 May 1927.  The next story that Apple published was the first of his new character, Mr. Rafferty.  Mr. Rafferty is in the gentleman rogue school, similar to Raffles.  At one point in the story Mr. Chang remarks: “If I felt that Doctor Ling is to be victorious over me, I should surrender, claim the rewards, and use the money to endow a college for criminals—on the lines of the one that was conducted by Professor Rafferty.”
The same Rafferty?  I don’t know.  None of the 21 Rafferty stories have been reprinted.

(The previous Mr. Chang post is here.)

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This entry was posted in Apple, A.E., Mystery, Vintage Mystery Challenge. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mr. Chang’s Crime Ray by A.E. Apple

  1. Pingback: Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2012 | Wollamshram's Blog

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