Review: THE CHINESE DETECTIVE by Joseph Theroux (Samoa)


The Chinese Detective: Hawaii’s Real Charlie Chan
by Joseph Theroux (Samoa, 1975-78 years)
Kilauea Publications
228 pages
January, 2024
$12.00 (paperback) $5.00 (Kindle)

Reviewed by Cynthia Nelson Mosca (Ethiopia 1967-69)


On cold blustery Chicago afternoons, I could be found sitting on the sofa in our living room, munching popcorn, and watching old black and white Charlie Chan movies. It never occurred to me that Charlie Chan was based on a real person. But real he was and quite a character too.

Earl Derr Biggers authored six Charlie Chan novels which were made into feature films and were the inspiration for sixteen more. His Charlie Chan was modeled after Chang Apana who was a real detective in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Lloyd Osbourne, the narrator of story was the stepson of Robert Louis Stevenson. The father and stepson collaborated on three novels. Osbourne went on to fill his life with the writing of short stories, dramas, novels, mysteries and memoir.

Joseph Theroux is the author of this short and engaging tale of murder and mayhem in Hawaii.

Earl Derr Biggers, Chang Apana, and Llyod Osbourne all come together with a crash when Biggers’s wife Eleanor is kidnapped.

Our story begins on a sandy beach in Hawaii–

“I sat up. What is it?”

He (Max a small boy) pointed to the water.

I dropped my book and tossed the towel from my legs and made my way to the object. It was the body of a small man, clothed but shoeless, an Asian with a queue trailing in the water. His throat had been cut.”

The background on this larger-than-life detective is an extremely fun read. The reader will soon be caught up in the story of Osbourne and the detective Apana. Imagine a detective armed with a gun and a bullwhip. That would certainly be cause for astonishment today.

The many colorful characters in the mystery will keep readers entertained. Though there isn’t a lot of dialogue, there is plenty of action. With a lively plot the story quickly unfolds. Murder, theft, opium smuggling, and rape quickly move the reader through the pages. And it’s all true! Or is it?

The book is peppered with the names of classic authors: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Conan Doyle and of course Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as the artist Jules Tavernier. Quite an ensemble of many of the most well-known authors of the 1920’s. As an avid reader I found this addition to the book delightful and intriguing. It sent me on my way searching for titles that I haven’t read by these writers.

Just as Osbourne and Apana gallop toward a murderer, the reader will find that the story gallops along. “The hoofbeats raised massive clouds of red dust and the rapid clomping filled my ears. Around a bend I caught sight of Apana gaining on Ichioka…Down a stretch of red prairie soil, Apana slowly gained on him. I came close enough to see Apana reach down, uncoil the bullwhip from his waist and snap it into the dusty air.”

Once I began reading The Chinese Detective, I couldn’t put it down until I was finished.  It is a very entertaining read for the fans of mystery and adventure. An enjoyable read for fans of old movies and history. And if you’re a reader whose curiosity is aroused by the casual mention of real people and places, this is the book for you!


Cynthia Mosca (Ethiopia 1967-69) spent over forty years in the field of education. She has taught all ages and ended her career as the Director of Language Minority Services in Cicero, Illinois. She has also served as adjunct faculty for several Chicago area colleges, where she taught graduate courses in bilingual education.

Cynthia is currently part of a Peace Corps Virtual Service Project in Ethiopia and a member of the EERPCV board. She recently published through Peace Corps Writers Imprint, Letters from a Wondrous Empire, An Epistolary Memoir.

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