Harry Stephen Keeler – signed letter card

If there were an award for Most Eccentric Crime Writer, Chicago’s Harry Stephen Keeler would be the man to beat. When he was a child, it seems, Keeler was committed to a lunatic asylum by his mother, and this does not surprise those who have pored over his weird and wandering tales. My late father was, in his youth, a Keeler fan and urged me to read the great man’s work, but when, as a schoolboy in the 1960s, I tried to track down Keeler novels, they proved elusive. Keeler (1890-1967) faded from the scene long before his death, dropped by his publishers on both sides of the Atlantic yet continuing to write endless stories that have never seen the light of day. But recent years have seen a revival of interest in his work, sparked by articles by Francis M. Nevins and a chapter in Bill Pronzini’s excellent Son of Gun in Cheek. Pronzini reckons that once you’ve spent a couple of hours with Keeler, you’ll never be the same again. Ten years ago a Harry Stephen Keeler Society was formed; Fender Tucker has edited the fascinating A to Izzard: a Harry Stephen Keeler Companion, published by Ramble House, which has now reprinted much Keeler material.

This signed printed card is addressed to the Literary Editor and Reviewer of his 19th novel, X. Jones – of Scotland Yard, and expresses Keeler’s gratitude for the review. It also lists his previously published work. The novel (in which the killer isn’t introduced until the last line) forms part of a typically extravagant ‘meganovel’ running to around 1400 pages and concerns the ‘Aeronautic Strangler-Baby Case’. The card names no fewer than five forthcoming Keeler novels – whatever else you say about him, nobody can deny he was amazingly productive. The last word goes to Keeler fan and mystery writer Francis M. Nevins. When he was asked if Keeler’s style had influenced his own work, he said, ‘I hope not.’