Keeler published 37 novels with E. P. Dutton and Company of New York between 1927 and 1942. His earlier titles were successful, and several were reprinted by cheaper publishers such as A. L. Burt and Triangle Press; his later Dutton novels had very modest sales, and are harder to find today. The Keeler Dustjacket Vault proudly offers a complete selection of Dutton jackets. Thanks to the friends and members of the Keeler Society who have contributed many of these images.
Find the Clock (Dutton, 1927): Keeler's career at Dutton gets off to a good start with this evocative Chinatown street scene rendered by Mahlon Blaine. An ominous death clock hovers in the sky. The Dutton original pictured here (courtesy of Brian Hunt) has a blue background; the A.L. Burt reprint pictured here has an orange background.
"Two Newspaper Men Unearth the Swindling Conspiracy Of A Daring Criminal Band
"Jeffrey Darrell, special writer for the 'Call,' was close on the trail of a big story which he thought might lead him, in the end, to Carl von Tresseler, the 'Blonde Beast of Bremen' who had made a name for himself as a paragon of bestial cruelty as head of the great Innesbaden prison camp during the War, when his plans were completely upset by the assignment of Feldock, a mysterious detective-reporter, to help him on the case and story. Clues found in the laundry of a Chinaman who is suddenly murdered after his discovery of a message on a handkerchief entrusted to his care, point toward the presence of a gang of world swindlers in the city and Darrell suspects that Von Tresseler is directing their movements. But, search as he may, he cannot locate the arch-criminal, until, finally, the chase narrows down to a message concealed in a missing alarm clock. In it is the secret of great price--and in the stirring events which precede its discovery the author has written the deepest and most daring kind of mystery story."
The Voice of the Seven Sparrows (Dutton, 1928): this "yellow peril" artwork must have sold a few copies of this fine tale. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Another baffling story of this great American detective story writer who is already known for his marvelously intricate and interwoven plots.
"If because your name was Smith (and some Smith was the man they were after) you suddenly received an envelope containing a deuce of spades with red Chinese characters on it, wouldn't you shudder a little?
"This is but one of the strands of Mr. Keeler's network of plots involving murder, embezzlement, revenge, and racial intrigue -- a new work which enmeshes newspapers, banks, life-boats, and laundries, from California to New Orleans and from New Orleans to Asia.
"This book is a perfect example of Mr. Keeler's arabesques of intrigue that confound human reason."
Sing Sing Nights (Dutton, 1928): Death leads three convicts by their necks. Classy silhouette design by "RR."
"Three men in Sing Sing--all writers--awaiting execution for the same crime. The body of the victim held only two bullets--one of the men is innocent. How can they find out before morning which one of them is to sign the pardon blank? "Sing Sing Nights" is a startling example of Mr. Keeler's uncanny power to unravel the most involved plots and during the unraveling deepen the mystery until the very end of the story."
Inside back blurb for The Voice of the Seven Sparrows, as above.
The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro (Dutton, 1929): Here's a wonderful, psychedelic art deco fantasy. This image is enough to make you feel as paranoid as the hero of the novel! Courtesy of Art Scott.
"This is one of Mr. Keeler's finest mystery novels, developing his 'Webwork plot' construction -- an intricate edifice built up on one of the most startling and ingenious ideas in mystery literature.
"Through the diabolical scheme to separate a man from his inheritance, Mr. Keeler throws a fascinating sidelight upon a criminal use of modern psychology.
"Real -- thrilling mystery -- told by a master of mystery stories."
Thieves' Nights (Dutton, 1929): A handsome bit of Art Deco calligraphy graces this jacket. Courtesy of Gerry Kroll.
"This is Mr. Keeler's most breath-taking achievement, an Arabian Nights or Thieves' Nights of the most glittering and incredible kind, full of unexpected denouements in startling succession, so that the reader has the experience of waking up from dream within dream. And the deepest and innermost dream is that strange unfolding of the legend of Bayard De Lancey, King of Thieves, whom lesser thieves feel honor to have known.
"The story is a jewel of many facets, in devious and brilliant setting. Here Mr. Keeler's genius for the mystery-plot comes into an amazing perfectness."
Inside back blurb:
"Harry Stephen Keeler is especially recommended by --
JUDGE KENESAW M. LANDIS
NEWTON D. BAKER
THE NEW YORK SUN
THE NEW YORKER
THE CHICAGO DAILY NEWS
THE BROOKLYN CITIZEN
THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN
and other newspapers, periodicals and critics"
"Opinions of Harry Stephen Keeler's Mysteries
"Baltimore Evening Sun: Harry Stephen Keeler and S. S. Van Dine are in a class more by themselves in American detective fiction.
"Providence Journal: Keeler belongs in the school of colorists, so far as mystery tales go, and adheres to the slogan, 'Keep 'em Awake.'
"Springfield Republican: The author keeps the reader puzzled, entertained and interested until everything is made clear.
"Buffalo Times: Harry S. Keeler is fast becoming one of our most successful writers of mystery stories.
"Brooklyn Citizen: Mr. Keeler provides plenty of mystery and plenty of thrills.
"Camden Courier: Keeler has a style of his own that keeps you jumping and the plot holds you to the last line."
The Amazing Web (Dutton, 1930): This great, highly stylized design shows hundreds of men with suitcases waiting to get on a streetcar. I bet most buyers of the book did not understand what the dustjacket represented until they read the novel! Courtesy of Art Scott.
Warning: don't read this blurb unless you don't mind learning about some plot twists!
"Howthe Trigger-Finger of a Man Long Dead Sent Another Man To His Death
"In this gigantic mystery story, Mr. Keeler has employed atavism in his plot, a thing that has probably never before been attempted in mystery fiction. Starting in pirate days with the bitter enmity between Captain Kidd and Captain Quarlbush whom Kidd marooned on a desert island for mutiny and thus deprived of a share in the spoils, Mr. Keeler conjures up in modern times a descendant of each of them and shows how in a mysterious way Quarlbush was finally avenged.
"Standing one day before a strange beautiful Chinese cabinet, in which he was seeking some priceless papers, Kidd's descendant falls dead. With many dramatic suspenses, Mr. Keeler tells the story of how Captain Quarlbush, bent upon revenge, secretly built the beautiful Chinese cabinet, which he plotted to fall into Kidd's hands. This is the basis of the primary plot to which are interlaced many other plots in this incomparable book."
The Fourth King (Dutton, 1930): Death stalks Jason Folwell through a pack of cards. Nice design by Dorothy Owen.
"What happened to the thirteen kings of crooked Chicago finance? The double for the fourth crooked king faces certain death.
"A dark mystery story of LaSalle Street, Chicago's financial center, in which the author presents a dramatic picture of what happens on the shady side of the street.
"As the suave J. Hamilton Eaves sat at his desk gloating over the mail from his 'sucker' list, his eye suddenly lighted upon a playing card--a King. With it was a warning that if he did not cease his crooked stock operations, something terrible would happen to him.
"Thus begins a chilling Keeler mystery novel that winds into labyrinths of darkness--and something worse."
The Green Jade Hand (Dutton, 1930): An eerie cover draws attention to the Dutton Clue Mystery series. These novels were "published with a special page inserted in each book at a point where all the characters and necessary clues have been presented to make it possible for you to determine the guilty person or persons. At this point, without reading further, you make your decision, write the name of the person or persons you believe to be guilty on the coupon of the page, and send it to us. If you are right, we will send you a card of award. When you have thus solved any three Dutton Clue Mysteries and have three cards of award, mail them to us with 25 cents to cover mailing expenses and we will send you a Dutton Clue Mystery FREE." Of course, this assumes that the mystery plays fair, more or less, and that it is a whodunit. In the case of Keeler, neither is normally true. Keeler's endings are always surprising (as the blurb for this book implies!), because they are deliberately outrageous; and often his plots are not whodunits at all, but whydunits, whereisits, or just plain whatthehellisgoingons! Courtesy of Art Scott.
"A tense, dramatic mystery thriller linking the theft of a priceless manuscript with the disappearance of a mysterious Chinese green jade hand, clue to a fortune.
"Dirk Mattox, as the price he must pay to marry the woman he loves, is required by her father to recover the manuscript by fair or foul means. He begins his amazing adventure with the discovery of a dead body. The dangerous trail leads through Chicago's underworld and to an encounter with Wah Hung Fung, inscrutable overlord of Chinatown. A brilliant, ingenious narrative by a master writer of mystery stories."
The Riddle of the Yellow Zuri (Dutton, 1930): Another handsome design by "RR" (artist for Sing Sing Nights) prominently features the "Dutton Clue Mystery" series.
"Here is fiction that is stranger than truth. It contains one of the most perplexing and labyrinthine mysteries ever conceived by the human mind.
"In the open market in Chicago, a tiger snake could have been bought by a circus for $10. But the particular snake for which Jake Jennings was willing to pay a small fortune was the key to a great mystery.
"The grand climax is an absolute surprise, and no reader will be able to say, 'I knew it from the beginning'."
The Matilda Hunter Murder (Dutton, 1930): I'm not sure whether to laugh at this illustration -- but I like it! Courtesy of Art Scott.
"A mysterious black leather case tightly closed with stitches of silver wire was what drew Mrs. Matild aHunter's eye when her new boarder arrived. And a short time afterward, when he suddenly disappeared, she experienced a kind of triumphant satisfaction to her unappeased feminine curiosity by carrying the case to her nephew's room. From that room she never came again alive.
"Thus begins another of Mr. Keeler's web-work mystery novels that serpentines its way through a world of terrors."
The Box From Japan (A.L. Burt reprint of 1932 Dutton edition): Wonderful, pseudo-Japanese, sinister art by "FW" or "FU."
"Harry Stephen Keeler projects his mind into the future and unwinds a high-powered mystery yarn of the year 1942! Television in the coming decade furnishes the initial episode in this unique plot by the mystery-writer who, according to the American News Company, is now ranked as one of the 'Big Four' with Wallace, Oppenheim and Van Dine.
"An unclaimed box from Japan in an Express Company auction sale, its counterpart in London revealed by a new transatlantic television process, and a cable of inquiry are the prelude to a wave of murder, violence and intrigue in Chicago. Keeler takes a Gargantuan step ahead of his rivals in this new thriller."
The Washington Square Enigma (A.L. Burt reprint of 1933 Dutton edition): About half of this jacket is devoted to reassuring readers that this novel is short! Keeler's previous two books had weighed in at over 700 pages each, and obviously he had alienated some of his readers.
"A dash from an empty house at the sight of a murdered man with a dragon-topped hatpin protruding from one eye! An escape from the police on the back of a speeding roadster. The discovery that its driver, a curly-haired, beautiful girl, clutches in one hand the headless body of that same fatal dragon-topped hatpin!
"This is the first climax of breathless action that winds about the figure of Ford Harling, penniless derelict in Chicago, and plunges him into the heart of another famous web-work plot of Harry Stephen Keeler. He is caught in a maelstrom of circumstances that whirl about a stolen ruby, counterfeit bills, a nocturnal visit to a cemetery, and a peculiarly baffling murder involving a lovely heiress.
"It is the fastest-moving mystery ever written by Harry Stephen Keeler, expert in bafflement and tantalizing clues."
The Face of the Man From Saturn (Dutton, 1933): This gargoyle by Politzer looks like he belongs on Notre Dame, not Saturn. The blurb is unusually detailed. Courtesy of Dennis Duncan.
"Jimmie Kentland, reporter on the 'Chicago Sun,' was not too happy even though he was 'subbing' for the Night City Editor. Things hadn't been breaking right. Suddenly his eye lighted on an illiterate note lying on the desk. He read it, then dashed out--'Number 1700, Crilly Court,' he shouted to the taxi driver, 'and step on it.'
"Thud--the taxi stopped suddenly. Kentland knew by the sound and feel that a human body had been hit. In the street lay a dark young woman motionless. 'To the hospital, quick,' ordered Kentland. He took one long, lingering look at the young woman, the kind that wants to remember something--and then started once again in the taxi for Number 1700 Crilly Court. It was an Oriental antique shop--mysterious looking, silent. Kentland opened the door. ... 'Am I too late?' as he saw the proprietor stretched out on the floor and pinned with a dagger which had hung on the wall of the shop. As he looked around the place he saw a picture entitled 'The Man from Saturn'--and the face had been cut out.
"It was the long arm of a curious little clue that eventually led Kentland to the secret power that had brought death to the curio dealer and revealed to Kentland something that eventually cleared up a lot of other things, particularly something about a beautiful, dark, young woman who had been taken to a hospital and almost forgotten."
The Mystery of the Fiddling Cracksman (Dutton, 1934): Can't you just hear him playing an exotic tune? An excellent drawing by David Berger. Who were the Secret Six? According to a newsgroup posting, "they were a secret group of wealthy businessmen who worked behind the scenes against Capone, letting Elliot Ness and his Untouchables take the headlines. Then there was the 1931 gangster film THE SECRET SIX, which had the Six as a largely undefined group of men in black masks who met to plot against the gangsters/bootleggers." Mike Gallaher writes, " 'Secret Six' was a pulp magazine with science fiction lead stories and non-sf backup stories, published in October 1934 through January 1935 in Chicago. Since 'Fiddling Cracksman' was published in 1934, I think it's almost certain that this is the 'Secret Six' that is being referenced on that cover. Pulp magazines like this often featured reviews and recommendations. Since 'Secret Six' was published in Chicago, it is quite reasonable to suppose that Keeler, himself the editor of a Chicago pulp magazine, could have arranged for an advance review from 'The Secret Six'. 'The Secret Six' could possibly have even originated from the same publisher as Keeler's '10 Story Book' magazine, making the recommendation even easier to obtain."
"Wild, fantastic, yet overwhelmingly logical, this yarn could come only from Chicago's own Sherlock Holmes and that favorite of American mystery fans, Harry Stephen Keeler. Here he gives us a brand-new webwork of mysteries--a cracksman who uses, not dynamite, but a violin; a second-hand safe with amazing secrets inside; a volcanic island in the Pacific and a fantastic kingdom in Europe; a demented Oriental; and a pair of lovers caught in the very center of this whirlwind of danger and detection.
"As usual, this breathless yarn is filled with facts and incidents undreamed of in the usual mystery story. Keeler fans will find in it a special treat."
The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (1934): A simple skull-in-ice design by "AFB." Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Again this famous master of web-work drama in crime and horror unreels a story of embezzlement and one of the most ghoulish forms of deception, terrifying a man almost to the point of insanity.
"Roger Pelton, wealthy manufacturer with a beautiful daughter, was trying to be happy. But he could not rid himself of a corroding memory of his youth; and all his worst fears were confirmed when suddenly he came face-to-face with a human skull that was on travel.
"All this occurs in Chicago--and strangely, it's the fiance of Pelton's daughter who finally runs the wraiths into the open and clears up the black mystery of a lifetime."
The Five Silver Buddhas (Dutton, 1935): This is a striking one! What you can't see in the JPEGs is that the paper the man is holding is covered with odd mathematical jottings. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"When Penn Harding, an unsuspecting young American, came into possession of one of five little statues of Buddha, horror chilled his soul! There is an old Chinese saying that 'of every five fingers in the world, one is a thumb' -- meaning that out of ever five things appearing alike, one is always different -- may possess sinister powers, and spell mortal danger to the one who owns it!
"Out of this mystic aphorism Harry Stephen Keeler has woven a superbly puzzling story of crime and intrigue, and has related some of the strangest things that ever happened to a man."
The Skull of the Waltzing Clown (Dutton, 1935): one of the very best Keeler dustjackets, simple and sublime. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Before George Stannard left Honolulu, he took a parting drink with a man he disliked. Neither did the man like him. In one of the glasses was a Hawaiian concoction which did strange things to men. 'Here's how!' As the drinks went down, each man thought he had outwitted the other.
"George Stannard later went to Chicago to meet his eccentric uncle, Simon Stannard, collector of old safes. In one of these safes had lain the weird secret of the skull of the waltzing clown.
"It is about that secret and the romance between its holder and Miss 'O Lily Sing Lee' that this new Keeler novel gyrates as dizzily as a sky-writing plane -- except that, at the end, all the strokes in the sky spell Plot, Mystery and Drama -- in that extraordinary Keeler way!"
The Marceau Case (Dutton, 1936): dramatic lettering on this jacket, no? Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Here is something absolutely new in mystery stories! A new idea -- a new technique -- a new method of presentation in book form.
"'The Babe from Hell!' gasped André Marceau just as the wire tightened around his neck. A second later he lay sprawled on the ground -- dead. Close by his body were the tracks of tiny footsteps, beginning nowhere and leading nowhere ... the only clues to one of the most shocking crimes of the Twentieth Century, until ..."
"This was the beginning of a mystery that Scotland Yard sleuths worked on frantically for two years and then abandoned in despair, without a solution. Yet it was solved, not by a detective, but by a resourceful and imaginative American newspaper man, who tracked down an overlooked clue and re-opened the case. The thread of Destiny which brought a horrible death to André Marceau stretched through Europe to Japan and Australia and America.
"This is Keeler's most ingenious, most spectacular and most mystifying work to date. Presented not as an ordinary narrative, but as a complete dossier -- a complete presentation of all the photographs, reports, letters, diagrams, newspaper clippings, cables, etc. dealing with the case -- it becomes an absolutely new and intriguing experience in mystery fiction!"
The back of The Marceau Case offers some more great propaganda for this work. Courtesy of Art Scott.
X. Jones -- Of Scotland Yard (Dutton, 1936): a finely detailed dustjacket, showing various images from the novel in the form of documents and newspaper clippings.
"For two solid years Scotland Yardworked on THE MARCEAU CASE mystery before they gave it up, hopelessly baffled. Then Whittemore, an American newspaper man in London, did some sensational sleuthing and produced a solution. But was it the right one?
"Xenius Jones, a former detective of Scotland Yard, by the application of a new, secret theory of crime detection -- here propounds the final solution.
"It will thrill every mystery fan to see how the whole meaning of a structure of facts can be completely changed by shifting the point of view.
"This extraordinary story will appeal especially to everyone who followed the Press reports of the Lindbergh case, the Lamson case, and other recent and unusual murder cases.
"X. JONES OF SCOTLAND YARD shows how possible it is to build an airtight case around an innocent person through circumstantial evidence before the clues have been unearthed which lead to the true solution!"
Here's the back cover for X. Jones. Courtesy of Art Scott.
The Wonderful Scheme of Mr. Christopher Thorne (Dutton, 1936): They didn't even try to illustrate this one! At this point in Keeler's career, he wasn't gaining many new readers, so his name was featured prominently in order to catch the eye of his established fans. Thanks to Eysteinn Björnsson for this jacket.
"This is the story of Kwan Yung, Chinese inventor, who was framed and railroaded to Sing Sing; of Christopher Thorne, an oppressive money lender, of his exquisitely beautiful daughter, Alicia, and Philip Erskine, Thorne's employee.
"No Keeler reader can afford to miss this fascinating human-interest labyrinth of riddles and duplicate personalities, which starts in Wall Street, New York and which then shifts to Chicago and New Orleans.
"Ingenious in conception, it is brilliantly worked out to the smallest detail. An unusually puzzling story of crime and intrigue--more on the order of 'The Voice of the Seven Sparrows,' and others of his earlier books."
The Defrauded Yeggman (Dutton, 1937): the artwork and range of colors leave something to be desired on this one. The web, I suppose, suggests the webwork plot. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"When Keeler's companion mysteries 'The Marceau Case' and 'X Jones of Scotland Yard' were published, critics said that they were close to a phenomenon among detective stories. His newest book 'The Defrauded Yeggman' will cause even more comment on the originality and resourcefulness of this master writer of mysteries.
"The scene of Mr. Keeler's new tale is laid in the town of Harleysburg, Texas, a few miles north of the Mexican border, and begins when a million dollars is suddently and mysteriously deposited in the bank of that town. Naturally the money thus deposited causes no end of talk, and Mr. Keeler starts weaving his amazing web from there. A number of interrelated plots and incidents and characters enter the web -- a Mexican general, a headless corpse, an anthropologist, a doctor, three tramps, a school master and others.
"In this book Keeler has written another highly original, ingenious and skillfully evolved plot. We believe he has excelled his other books in thrills, new suspense devices, and in the logical introduction of fascinating clues."
10 Hours (Dutton, 1937): A simple cover with a bloody clock hand for the continuation of The Defrauded Yeggman.
"No Keeler fan can afford to miss this ingenious new mystery which concerns the activities of three clever vagabonds. Supposedly in the employ of the Mexican Rebel Commander, Lopez, who is waging war on a Texas town near the border, they are arrested as spies and spend the next 10 hours telling long, fantastic stories that involve strategy as well as entertainment.
"The plot is intriguing, and brilliantly worked out. The Mexican-Texas situation provides a colorful and exciting background, and there is sufficient action, suspense, and intrigue to hold the reader spellbound.
"Probably no writer of mystery yarns has ever lived whose work can compare with Keeler's. His originality, his ingenuity, his prolific powers, and his utter, irresistible logic rank him as one of America's outstanding mystery writers. He is known everywhere as the famous master of web-work drama in crime and horror. His tremendous popularity with readers on two continents grows with each book."
Finger! Finger! (Dutton, 1938): An odd, dark cover featuring a smudgy painting of three masks, Western and Oriental. Courtesy of Eric Thorsen.
"If only Japan could lay her hands on the Thirteenth Coin of Confucius which was floating around somewhere in the United States, she could thwart a certain Chinese ambition. The Japanese Secret Service in New York City had a clue and immediately a Japanese Secret Service Agent boarded the Chicago Flyer and never took his eyes off a white passenger with a short gray beard. It was the passenger's 'Dryo' raincoat that the Secret Agent had his eye on, and at the first opportunity he grabbed it and substituted a duplicate. In the leather purse he found not the sacred gold piece but a dead finger wrapped in cellophane . . .Thus the master mystery-man lays the groundwork for one of his most fantastic stories in which he dramatizes the Oriental psychology of Crime.
"Like all of his recent mystery stories, this one also contains one of his famous webwork plots, and the reader is treated to an intense situation in which white men become wedged in between hostile forces of China and Japan, all working silently and under an impenetrable mask."
Behind that Mask (Dutton, 1938): nice lettering on this jacket. The Spanish version improved on it, though, by adding an actual mask (see Keeler in Spain). Courtesy of Art Scott.
"The plot is as mysterious in its makeup as in its unraveling: when you think it's solved, it's just beginning. You'll like the characterization of Yin Yi, that high-minded young Chinaman who loves literature and piano playing and 'Little Dolly' .... You'll thrill with Terry O'Rourke over his exciting, skillfully fashioned, and absorbing alibi checking .... You'll listen in on more telephone conversations than you ever dreamed of .... Isn't a motive necessary before a crime can be pinned on a man? you'll ask. It's an amazing story, and at the same time so thoroughly credible that it will get a grip on you.
"Competent critics say that no other mystery writer has attained such intricacy of plot structure, and such ability to outwit his readers' imaginations as Keeler has--just in case you haven't read Keeler mysteries before. He writes baffling, fast-moving yarns. 'Behind That Mask' is one of his most unusual novels in theme and power and characterization."
The Mysterious Mr. I (Dutton, 1938): this beautiful airbrushed spotlight design does a good job of conveying the mystery.
"The action of this story takes place in Chicago during one breathless, exciting morning. It is told by a mysterious investigator, whose mission is to get hold of an escaped lunatic before midnight, and also to track down the criminal in a suspected foul play which has come to his notice through the Mother Superior of a small convent. The method he uses for unveiling and punishing the villains is a highly ingenious one.
"There is a complete dovetailing of intricate, jagged crime on one side, and intricate, jagged detecting on the other. A jigsaw puzzle: what the author's growing army of enthusiastic readers calls his 'webwork plot.' The crime is odd and the detecting just as odd, and that's just why every Keeler fan will relish it."
Back inside blurb for Behind That Mask, as quoted above.
Back cover blurb for The Mysterious Mr. I: "The latest and most intriguing of the 'web-work plots' made famous by the one and only Keeler. It is up to Keeler's highest standard, which is all that needs to be said."
The Chameleon (Dutton, 1939): a handsome cover for this novel nicely matches the feel of its predecessor, The Mysterious Mr. I. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"The astoundingly unusual hero of this mystery novel goes through breathtaking adventures in his attempt to save from tragedy a convent-hospice where he has been well-treated.
"Mr. Keeler's magnificent imagination, and his wonderfully wide knowledge of many subjects are allowed full play in this, his latest book. In addition to giving us a fast-moving, confounding mystery, the author gives us glimpses into the fields of philosophy, burglars' tools and methods, satirical magazine writing, railroad engineering, the law, the fourth dimension, plumbing, surgery, psychiatry -- and crystal gazing!
"'The Chameleon' affords the reader continual excitement and a typical Keeler ending."
The Man with the Magic Eardrums (Dutton, 1939): A purely typographical cover. I guess the title of the book is dramatic enough! Thanks to Eysteinn Björnsson for this jacket.
"THE MAN WITH THE MAGIC EARDRUMS is the story of a strange and eerie night spent in a house on a desolate Minnesota prairie. During this night two men from vastly different social strata face each other across a library table in the great hall of the home of Mr. Mortimer Q. King. During this night the strange story of Mortimer Q. King comes to light and the lives of many are shaken by the strange dialogue that passed between these even stranger men. When the surprising and breath-taking dawn comes, the reader is due for one of the greatest thrills in his mystery-reading career.
"This is undoubtedly one of Keeler's best mysteries to date.
"In case you have never read a Keeler mystery before, you will be interested to know that competent critics say that no other mystery writer has attained such an intricacy of plot structure and such ability to outwit his reader's imagination as Keeler has. This master-mystery-man writes baffling, fast-moving yarns that have been termed 'web-work plots.' His plots are odd, his crimes intricate, his action breathless and exciting. The whole is a superb, baffling story of intrigue and mystery in which are related some of the strangest things that ever happened to man."
Y. Cheung, Business Detective (Dutton, 1939): Honestly, this isn't a racist novel. HSK's Chinese-American hero fights throughout the story against the kind of prejudice shown by the illustrator here.
"A poor young Chinese with but one visible asset -- an engineer's degree -- finds himself in a vast alien land, surrounded by alien intrigues, trickery, double-dealing and un-Confucian principles. He is faced with an 'absolutely unsolvable' mystery: a mystery which had withstood the efforts of many of America's most brilliant detectives; a mystery which had defied practically every known method of attack -- until Milford Harven, head of a great construction company, hired Y. Cheung, the young Chinese detective!
"Unpack your criminological paraphernalia and follow the pursuit page by page, thrill by thrill, in this newest and completely different story from Mr. Keeler's Story-Shop...."
The Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb (Dutton, 1940): A rather unimaginative design makes Keeler's name -- once again -- the most important thing about the book.
"On a small deserted island in Big River--while the flood rises about them--three men tell their stories. Each man is under the suspicion of the Sheriff who has come to the island to intercept a criminal. The Sheriff hopes to identify the guilty man before an innocent one shall die. Each man's story matches in some degree that of the criminal, so all three men must prove their innocence before the flood rises too high. For when the waters reach a certain point one of the strange little party must of necessity be drowned, due to the fact that boats there are none--and lifebelts are too few!
"The stories of the Mexican dancer, of the youth wanted for embezzlement, and of the portrait that held so strange a secret, weave into the master story of the criminal and the rising flood waters to make a tale full of excitement, adventure and suspense that will satisfy the most exacting reader, and the O. Henry-like ending is certainly the most unexpected that Keeler has ever produced.
"Harry Stephen Keeler, known to mystery readers the world over, is probably the most generous of all writers in the field. He never contents himself with writing only one story. His plots are so interwoven that the reader is richer by quite a few extra stories. Many authors would give their eye-teeth for the wealth of plot that Keeler reveals in every book."
Inside back blurb for The Man with the Magic Eardrums as quoted above.
The Man with the Crimson Box (Dutton, 1940): I get an almost surrealist feeling from this cover. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"A skull was stolen from the safe of the State's Attorney. A man who surprised the thief was murdered. The skull, which a certain Chicago colored man had unearthed, was badly needed by State's Attorney, Louis Vann, as evidence with which to hang Gus McGurk, gangster and kidnapper, for murder.
"Who then, was the Man With the Crimson Box, found wandering on the streets with the skull of Wah Lee, murdered by McGurk, inside of it, and who told wild tales of how it came into his possession? What interests were behind him (if any), and was he really suffering from amnesia?
"And how did the State's Attorney fare whose re-election hinged on satisfying his constituents that he was 'getting something done'? And who was the youthful lady lawyer who defended the Man With The Crimson Box?
"In short, Keeler plots and counterplots, amazing complications, excursions into psychology, the field of medicine, science, with murder, suspense, thrills, all along the way. Bound the please the audience of Keeler fans who revel in the amazing, labyrinthian puzzles they have come to expect from one of America's most resourceful mystery-writers."
Cleopatra's Tears (Dutton, 1940): competent, but not particularly imaginative... Courtesy of Art Scott.
"A magnificent emerald necklace known as Cleopatra's Tears -- also as Czar Nick's Death Gift and as Pizarro's Rape -- is stolen from the tiny shop of Gaston le Flon in Paris. Because of its frequent role in history, the necklace has a value far greater than even its intrinsic value. And it is suspected that Bernard Dubocque, international criminal, is attempting to smuggle it to America.
"Yoho tenBrockerville, masquerading in New York City as a member of the Dubocque gang, launches upon a series of unbelievable adventures, in an attempt to cash in on a promise of a job with The Buffalo Transcript. The job will be his if he succeeds in recovering the 'Tears,' in uncovering the mysterious international crime ring involved, and in piercing through to the truth about Senator Vanderwall's death.
"If he fails -- if he makes one false move -- he is a dead man!
"And here is as unique and baffling a story as this amazing writer has yet contrived for his always eager and expectant audience."
Inside back blurb:
"Harry Stephen Keeler: He was born in Chicago; educated at the Armour Institute of Technology where he studied electrical engineering; got a job in the steel mills -- stayed six months; decided to take a plunge at writing in the mystery-fiction field -- wrote 'Find the Clock,' 'The Voice of the Seven Sparrows,' ' Sing Sing Nights,' -- found an immediate audience -- mostly men -- for his now famous "web-work plot." Today he has nearly four-score mysteries to his credit, and an audience of veteran fans who swear by the complicated puzzles concocted by the mater's mind. Mr. Keeler has travelled extensively -- he has lived in London and Paris; he admits to an enthusiastic interest in all things Chinese and has a weird collection of Chinese objects in his workshop. He is married to Hazel Goodwin Keeler, artist and short-story writer, and lives in Chicago.
"A Fan's Tribute, By Jay Lewis of The Norfolk Ledger Dispatch:
"In Chicago lives Harry Stephen Keeler. He is a master magician, with the gift to Scheherazade in enlarging and embellishing a tale, every turn presenting three or four new avenues with others radiating from them. He produces page after page, chapter after chapter and book after book, full of amazing legerdemain. A genius of perpetual surprise, he has more knowledge of biology than Darwin ever possessed; knows more about music than Deems Taylor or Rupert Hughes, can demonstrate intricate calculus with the ease of an Einstein and knows more about the time spaces and the fourth dimension than a Tibetan Lama. He can set forth the impossible and then proceed logically to prove it all possible with a fascinating glibness that takes form in print with the faithfulness of a photograph in technicolor. Harry Stephen Keeler, when it comes down to facts, can write rings around all other fictioneers, but his hobby is mystery tales, of which he has produced more and better stories than any other living writer."
The Peacock Fan (Dutton, 1941): another fairly uninspired dustjacket. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Gordon Highsmith, author, is in the death cell, doomed to be executed in a few hours for the murder of his wife...
"The Governor of the State, a woman, the Honorable Emma Throckmorton, harbors a prejudice against the condemned writer...
"Interested in Highsmith is brother Boniface, his old friend, who comes both as friend and spiritual consoler to accompany Highsmith on the death march. Also interested in Gordon are the Governor's young secretary, who has fallen in love with him and has thus antagonized the Governor; Highsmith's attorney, who is trying desperately in the final hours to find a last-minute loophole; and an English girl who has read every line of Highsmith's strange book (a compilation of Chinese aphorisms, called The Way Out.)...
"Was there a 'way out' other than the death penalty for Highsmith? And what role did the Peacock Fan play in this perfect set-up against the convicted young man?...
"A word to Keeler fans: You'll recall the death house scene in Sing Sing Nights. Here is another breath-taking mystery with the same eerie and dramatic background."
The Sharkskin Book (Dutton, 1941): this one has a little more visual interest than its immediate predecessors. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"Cruelly third-degreed by police officials, Ogden Farlow finally 'confesses' to the murder of his friend, Peter vanDervelpen, who has vanished....
"Later, however, he is to see his 'confession,' naming the place where his friend's body lies, fully substantiated!...
"With a fractious judge on the bench, all paths are blocked against him. No way can be hewn out of the granite of this strange confession of murder....
"The colorful characters involved are: Erlys Craith, dancer ... Joe Long-Buffalo, North American Indian ... Swig Mullarky, Chicago gangster ... Daola Vendale, pretty nurse ... and Dr. Byxbee Adair, kidnapped society surgeon.
"And curiously influencing their destinies is the sharkskin-bound copy of a book of Chinese aphorisms called The Way Out. This quaint and cryptic book traces its path from hand to hand. Can any withered little maxim found in that book count for anything against the tangle of realistic issues that have trapped all the characters?
"Mystery fans who go in for brain-titillating conundrums and richly colorful stories, will find what they want here and written by the master of them all."
The Man with the Wooden Spectacles (Dutton, 1941): here's a striking one! Courtesy of Barry Warren.
"Here he is again, up to all his old tricks, which bear watching by connoisseurs of deductive chronicles." -- The Saturday Review .... "Mystery writing with a capital M and a thrill on every page." -- The Boston Herald.
"When little, redheaded Elsa Colby, girl criminal attorney, gets her first murder case, she is 'on the spot.' ...
"For the judge has been fixed, and the client won't talk! He doesn't even believe Elsa is his lawyer: he is convinced she has been planted by the State's Attorney's office!
"But if Elsa should lose this, her first case, assigned her by the court, or become disbarred for refusal to accept it, she will thereby lose all hope of inheriting a comfortable fortune, because of certain tricky papers she has trustingly signed with her sanctimonious uncle, Silas Moffit.
"Elsa, therefore, has to depend on the fantastic advice of such people as her old Negro nurse, Aunt Linda, who cooks up voodoo brews and puts curses on people.
"And on legless chewing-gum vendors like Limey Joe!
"And on drunken ne'er-do-wells like her cousin, Saul Moffit, who collects spectacles as a hobby!
"But no one had the slightest intimation what an important part the wooden spectacles would play in this strange midnight murder.
"The Man With the Wooden Spectacles is an unusual and exciting tale of mystery and rapid adventure, with a wow of a finale that out-Keelers even Keeler himself."
The Vanishing Gold Truck (Dutton, 1941): A handsome and rather modern design forms the title out of the trail of the vanishing gold truck.
"It was impossible! No truck could dissolve into thin air, practically before the very eyes of those who were poised to trap it, as it was to pass down the inaccessible elevated highway. At least, no truck large and heavy enough to carry $100,000 in stolen gold coins, as the vanishing gold truck was, could disappear like that without leaving so much as a wisp of smoke. Yet this one did!
"Sheriff Bucyrus Duckhouse could neither fathom it nor explain it. Yet his failure to do so meant that he would have to go to States' Prison for 10 years as accomplice of a gang of Western bankrobbers...
"Nor was his the only destiny involved in this amazing circus-mystery. For there was the destiny of Dollykins, the circus fat woman; of Al Mulhearn, bankrobber, and Snipes, the big-town gunman; of Jim Craney, the lion-wagon driver; of the gypsy fortune-teller, 'Queen' Rozequia; of Bebe, the elephant, and of Princess, the Lioness, and her five kit-cats; of the hillbilly Porch-Sittin' Shattucks; and, of little Spangles herself, petite equestrienne with MacWhorter's Circus. And all appearing in an exciting chapter devised and written not by the author if this book, but by his wife--Hazel Goodwin Keeler--well-known on her own count for her colorful short-stories...
"And what had the crystal-gazer's shop in London, or an old calendar in a Chicago bookshop, to do with this puzzle laid in the southwest? This unusual story of circus life just turned out by the versatile Mr. Keeler, presents a set of contradictory circumstances that even the most accomplished mystery fan will hardly solve."
Inside back cover blurb for The Man With the Wooden Spectacles, as above.
Back cover praise for Keeler in general: "Sometimes we wonder if anyone writing today is so vividly imaginative. We will say that Mr. Keeler is incomparable when it comes to escape literature. Just try to worry about your own trials and tribulations when you're working on a Keeler conundrum, slinking down dark alleys, trailing Oriental and Occidental villains, examining curious lethal devices employed by the Portuguese, the Armenians and the Greeks to say nothing of the Chinese!" -- The San Francisco Chronicle.
Back cover blurb for The Peacock Fan, as above.
Back cover blurb for The Sharkskin Book, as above.
The Bottle with the Green Wax Seal (Dutton, 1942): like many late Keeler dustjackets, this one doesn't seem to have been the object of great effort on the part of the artist or publisher. Courtesy of Art Scott.
"What was in the mysterious bottle with which Boyd Arganbright, young steel mill chemist of Irontown, was entrusted by his father's old friend? And what was in the three exactly similar bottles, entrusted to each of three other friends?
"How was Boyd to marry Alyda Westover, the girl he loved, when Sadie, the unfaithful girl to whom he was already married, refused to give him a divorce for less than $25,000, not one of which he had?
"The amazing and ingenious answer to the riddle, and to Boy'd problem, would seem to have little or nothing to do with the case of the wealthy Thomas Topkins sent down to Chicago's Honky Tonk Row to get a newspaper story on gyp-girls, and thus save his job, or with his strange and amusing adventure with the one gyp-girl who was searching for infants such as he! ...
"Or with the case of the person in New York who entered a poetry contest instituted by a rascally Park Avenue multi-millionaire, only to discover --
"But these are all colorful threads of the same dramatic plot which forms a suspenseful and intriguing story, and contains not one dramatic surprise, but a whole hatful, for those who like Harry Stephen Keeler's surprises and amazing solutions.
"The Bottle with the Green Wax Seal is a gorgeous yarn, with that keep-you-guessing quality men find attractive and which ends with one of the most exciting scenes Keeler has ever penned!"
The inside back flap has a blurb for The Vanishing Gold Truck (see above).
This caricature appears on the back, plus the following text:
"Harry Stephen Keeler, Master Mystifier...
He was born in Chicago; educated at the Armour Institute of Technology where he studied electrical engineering; got a job in the steel mills -- stayed six months; decided to take a plunge at writing in the mystery-fiction field -- wrote 'Find the Clock,' 'The Voice of the Seven Sparrows,' ' Sing Sing Nights,' -- found an immediate audience -- mostly men -- for his now famous "web-work plot." Today he has nearly four-score mysteries to his credit, and an audience of veteran fans who swear by the complicated puzzles concocted by the mater's mind. Mr. Keeler has travelled extensively -- he has lived in London and Paris; he admits to an enthusiastic interest in all things Chinese and has a weird collection of Chinese objects in his workshop. He is married to Hazel Goodwin Keeler, artist and short-story writer, and lives in Chicago.
"Among his recent tales are such thrillers as 'The Vanishing Gold Truck,' 'The Man With The Wooden Spectacles,' 'The Peacock Fan,' 'The Sharkskin Book,' and 'The Portrait of Jirjohn Cobb.'
"What They Say:
"'Sometimes we wonder if anyone writing today is so vividly imaginative. We will say that Mr. Keeler is incomparable when it comes to escape literature. Just try to worry about your own trials and tribulations when you're working on a Keeler conundrum, slinking down dark alleys, trailing Oriental and Occidental villains, examining curious lethal devices employed by the Portuguese, the Armenians and the Greeks to say nothing of the Chinese!' -- The San Francisco Chronicle
"'Mystery writing with a capital M and a thrill on every page.' -- The Boston Herald
"'Here he is again, up to all his old tricks, which bear watching by connoisseurs of deductive chronicles.' -- The Saturday Review"
The Book with the Orange Leaves (Dutton, 1942): This bizarre Oriental head ends Harry's career at Dutton with a bang. On this particular copy, there is a sticker from Lichtig and Englander, Hollywood agents. An identical sticker obscures part of the blurb. Could it be that these were Keeler's own agents, and they tried to see whether anyone was interested in filming this novel? Courtesy of Gerry Kroll.
"One thousand dollars -- or the life of his child-wife, forfeited!
"Forty-eight hours to get it -- or lose the services of the only brain surgeon in America who had ever successfully performed the delicate operation she needed!
"No leads! No moneyed friends! Could Stefan Czeszcziczki, rapid calculator, figure that one out? If he could solve how 'X-ray Eyes,' the safeblower, invariably picked out and cracked the one safe in a roomful which held the prize -- the secret map or the diamond tiara -- that would mean getting the thousand dollar reward. But every one had tried for that! That required a mind-reader -- not a rapid calculator!
"But how does this concern Isberian Jones, Florida news reporter, who has just unexpectedly been thrown out of his job?
"And what role has the invisible egg -- and the stresses in the ether that could make it invisible as it lies in full view on the scales?
"And the girl on trial for embezzling her own funds, and faced with life behind three-dimensional bars; Come-Unto-God Whipplesecker, Negro parson, who flees down the road into the snowy night of Christmas Eve, coat tails flying; "Deadpan," the idiot, as he figures out [...] of '2'; Charlton Grosvenor, journalist [...] a mysterious call in Jewry Street [...] Chile' Mayblossom, as she [...] waits -- how do they all figure [...] of this modern drama?...
"Harry Stephen Keeler puts [...] more effectively than anyone [...] these people, and knows them [...] does he answer our questions? ... [...] predictable. We give you 'The Book With The Orange Leaves.'"
Back cover has a caricature, bio, and quotations, as on The Bottle with the Green Wax Seal.
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