Holy crap. How did I reach the age of 33 and never hear of this guy before?
HARRY STEPHEN KEELER (1890-1967) is one of the strangest writers who ever lived. In his time, he was pegged as a mystery novelist who also wrote some science fiction. Today, if you’ve heard of him at all, it’s as the Ed Wood of mystery novelists, a writer reputed to be so bad he’s good. Actually, no genre, nor “camp,” can much suggest what Keeler is all about. Take some typical Keeler situations:
A man is found strangled to death in the middle of a lawn, yet there are no footprints other than his own. Police suspect the “Flying Strangler-Baby,” a killer midget who disguises himself as a baby and stalks victims by helicopter. (X. Jones of Scotland Yard, 1936)
Someone killed an antique dealer just so he could steal the face — only the face — from a surrealist painting of “The Man from Saturn.” (The Face of the Man from Saturn, 1933)
A woman’s body disappears while taking a steam bath. Only her head and toes, sticking out of the steam cabinet, remain. (The Case of the Transparent Nude, 1958)
Because of a clause in a will, a character has to wear a pair of hideous blue glasses constantly for a whole year. This is so that he will eventually see a secret message that is visible only with the glasses. (The Spectacles of Mr. Cagliostro, 1929)
In spite of his popularity, Keeler’s fiction and writing style grew increasingly bizarre, often substituting laboriously lengthy dialogues and diatribes between characters for action or plot. These events led his American publisher, Dutton, to drop him in 1942. The next eleven years were hard for Keeler as his writing drifted even further beyond the norm and short stories written by his wife (a moderately successful writer herself) were found increasingly within his novels. Keeler typically padded the length of his novels with the following device: his protagonist would find a magazine or book, would open it randomly and discover a story. At this point, Keeler’s novel would stop dead in its tracks and he would insert the complete verbatim text of one of his wife’s short stories, this being the story his novel’s protagonist was reading. At the end of the story, the novel would continue where it left off, several pages nearer to its contractual minimum word count. These stories-within-the-novel typically contained only a few scraps of information that were relevant to the novel in which they appeared.