Keeler, Harry Stephen 1890-1967

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KEELER, Harry Stephen 1890-1967

PERSONAL: Born November 3, 1890, in Chicago, IL; died January 22, 1967; married Hazel Goodwin (an author), 1919 (died, 1960); married Thelma Rinoldo (a secretary), 1963. Education: Armour Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology), degree in electrical engineering, 1912.

CAREER: Author. Also worked as an electrician in a steel mill, beginning c. 1912.



The Voice of the Seven Sparrows, Hutchinson (London, England), 1924, Dutton (New York, NY), 1928.

The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro, Hutchinson (London, England), 1926, Dutton (New York, NY), 1929, published as The Blue Spectacles, Ward Lock (London, England), 1931.

Find the Clock, Dutton (New York, NY), 1927.

Sing Sing Nights, Hutchinson (London, England), 1927, Dutton (New York, NY), 1928.

The Amazing Web, Ward Lock (London, England), 1929, Dutton (New York, NY), 1930.

The Fourth King, Ward Lock (London, England), 1929, Dutton (New York, NY), 1930.

Thieves' Night, Dutton (New York, NY), 1929.

The Green Jade Hand, Dutton (New York, NY), 1930.

The Riddle of the Yellow Zuri, Dutton (New York, NY), 1930, published as The Tiger Snake, Ward Lock (London, England), 1931.

The Matilda Hunter Murder, Dutton (New York, NY), 1931, published as The Black Satchel, Ward Lock (London, England), 1931.

The Box from Japan, Dutton (New York, NY), 1932.

Behind That Mask, Ward Lock (London, England), 1933, published with Finger! Finger!, Dutton (New York, NY), 1938.

The Face of the Man from Saturn, Dutton (New York, NY), 1933, published as The Crilly Court Mystery, Ward Lock (London, England), 1933.

The Washington Square Enigma, Dutton (New York, NY), 1933, published as Under Twelve Stars, Ward Lock (London, England), 1933.

The Mystery of the Fiddling Cracksman, Dutton (New York, NY), 1934.

The Riddle of the Traveling Skull, Dutton (New York, NY), 1934.

Ten Hours, Ward Lock (London, England), 1934, published in a three-volume set with The Skull of the Waltzing Clown and The Defrauded Yeggman, Dutton (New York, NY), 1935–37.

The Five Silver Buddhas, Dutton (New York, NY), 1935.

The Marceau Case, Dutton (New York, NY), 1936.

X. Jones of Scotland Yard, Dutton (New York, NY), 1936, published as X. Jones, Ward Lock (London, England), 1936.

The Mysterious Mr. I., Ward Lock (London, England), 1937, published in a two-volume set with The Chameleon, Dutton (New York, NY), 1938–39.

The Wonderful Scheme of Mr. Christopher Thorne, Dutton (New York, NY), 1937, published as The Wonderful Scheme, Ward Lock (London, England), 1937.

When Thief Meets Thief, Ward Lock (London, England), 1938.

Cheung, Detective, Ward Lock (London, England), 1938, published as Y. Cheung, Business Detective, Dutton (New York, NY), 1939.

The Man with the Magic Eardrums, Dutton (New York, NY), 1939, published as The Magic Eardrums, Ward Lock (London, England), 1939.

Find Actor Hart, Ward Lock (London, England), 1939, published as The Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb, Dutton (New York, NY), 1940.

Cleopatra's Tears, Dutton (New York, NY), 1940.

The Man with the Wooden Spectacles, Dutton (New York, NY), 1941, published as The Wooden Spectacles, Ward Lock (London, England), 1941.

The Peacock Fan, Dutton (New York, NY), 1941. The Sharkskin Book, Dutton (New York, NY), 1941, published as By Bird Degree, Ward Lock (London, England), 1948.

The Vanishing Gold Truck, Dutton (New York, NY), 1941.

The Lavender Gripsack, Ward Lock (London, England), 1941, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1944.

The Book with the Orange Leaves, Dutton (New York, NY), 1942.

The Bottle with the Green Wax Seal, Dutton (New York, NY), 1942.

The Case of the Two Strange Ladies, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1943.

The Search for X-Y-Z, Ward Lock (London, England), 1943, published as The Case of the Ivory Arrow, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1945.

The Case of the Sixteen Beans, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1944.

The Iron Ring, Ward Lock (London, England), 1944, published as The Case of the Mysterious Moll, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1945.

The Case of the Canny Killer, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1946, published as Murder in the Mills, Ward Lock (London, England), 1946.

The Monocled Monster, Ward Lock (London, England), 1947.

(With Hazel Goodwin) The Case of the Barking Clock, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1947.

The Case of the Jeweled Ragpicker, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1948, published as The Ace of Spades Murder, Ward Lock (London, England), 1948.

(With Hazel Goodwin) The Case of the TransposedLegs, Phoenix Press (New York, NY), 1948.

The Murdered Mathematician, Ward Lock (London, England), 1949.

(With Hazel Goodwin) The Strange Will, Ward Lock (London, England), 1949.

The Steeltown Strangler, Ward Lock (London, England), 1950.

The Murder of London Lew, Ward Lock (London, England), 1952.

(With Hazel Goodwin) Stand By—London Calling, Ward Lock (London, England), 1953.

Also author of novels published in Spanish or Portuguese, including O caso do cadaver endiabrado (title means "The Case of the Crazy Corpse"). Editor, Ten-Story Book (magazine), 1919-40. Keeler's manuscripts are maintained at Columbia University.

ADAPTATIONS: Sing Sing Nights was adapted as a movie by the same title for Monogram Studios, 1934; the story "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" was adapted as a movie starring Bela Lugosi, 1935.

SIDELIGHTS: Harry Stephen Keeler's more than seventy novels form a self-contained universe of monstrously complicated intrigues, blending elements of farce, Grand Guignol, and radical social criticism while also serving as a labyrinth in which he hid himself. He was the inventor of the "webwork novel," in which literally hundreds of bizarre events explode like cigars in the white-knight hero's face but ultimately prove to be mathematically interrelated, with every absurd incident making blissfully perfect sense within Keeler's zany frame of reference. His favorite devices for tying story elements together were the loony law, the nutty religious tenet, the wacky will, the crackpot contract, and—most common of all—the interlocking network of backbreaking coincidence. He loved to have his characters converse in outrageous ethnic dialects and to toss them into quasi-science-fictional situations. He loved to attack the social evils he saw: racism, police brutality, corrupt politicians, capital punishment, the maltreatment of the mentally ill, and other aspects of the dark underside of America, where money and power mattered more than anything else. Most of all he loved cats, even dedicating some novels to favorite felines.

Keeler grew up among thespians of Victorian melodrama in his widowed mother's theatrical boardinghouse. Between 1914 and 1924 he published dozens of magazine serials and novellas, then switched to novels, many expanded from earlier magazine tales. His first books, such as The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro and Thieves' Nights, are usually set in his beloved Chicago, constructed on the Arabian Nights model and packed with grotesque characters and events, coincidence, bitter social comment, and Victorian dialogue.

In the early 1930s he wrote some of the longest mystery novels of all time, including The Box from Japan with its 765 closely printed pages, as well as some of the shortest and swiftest, such as The Washington Square Enigma. By the mid-1930s his books had become longer, wilder, wackier, and less constrained by conventional discipline than ever, including several multi-volume meganovels like The Mysterious Mr. I and its sequel The Chameleon.

During the 1940s and 1950s Keeler alternated between single titles of standard length and brain-boggling contents and several series of novels dealing respectively with the adventures of a book, a circus, a house, an industrial plant, and a skull. However, the wilder Keeler's flights of fancy became, the fewer readers flew with him. After 1953 his books appeared only in Spanish or Portuguese translations, if at all. Nevertheless the quirky Keeler continued to turn out novels as well as a weekly mimeographed newsletter full of things theosophical and literary, as well as cat lore. He died in 1967, leaving a dozen books unfinished, confident that one day he would be read again.



Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February, 2001, Don Webb, review of The Box from Japan, p. 162.

Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2001, Carlos Tejada, "So Bad They're Good as Gold: The Novels of Harry Keeler," p. A1.


Harry Stephen Keeler Society Web site, (August 23, 2003).*