Emboldened by the experience of The Rynox Mystery (1930) by Philip MacDonald from last week — an author with whom I started poorly and have come to really enjoy — I turn to Harry Stephen Keeler. The only other Keeler I’ve read to date was…fine, and I’ve been admittedly reluctant to begin this despite its locked room murder being why I bought it in the first place. The superb introduction from Francis M. Nevins explains how and why this was unpublished in Keeler’s lifetime and only came into public being through Keelerite Fender Tucker’s Ramble House imprint in 2005. As you gather from my rating, I’m of the opinion the public would’ve coped perfectly fine without it.
The setup itself is very good indeed. It reads like the sort of low-rent pulp Nevins makes it clear was selling in droves at the time, and Keeler had been unpublished for no little while and so was arguably consciously providing what publishers wanted. We open with a phone call to the police, a landlord reporting that the tenant who lives on the floor above him has shot himself in his locked apartment. Through a crack at the side of the door the man’s body can clearly be seen, and a bolt on the inside of the door and padlocked mesh on the insides of the windows preclude an exit by anyone else who may’ve been present. So far, so classic.
And so ‘Lousy’ Lou Ousely and Homer ‘Butterball’ Tomaroy — your pugnacious pulp cops of yore, double-act griping a speciality — are dispatched, break down the door, and find the dead man complete with gun in hand and the eponymous two of diamonds sealed up in a glass bottle. A possible solution for the murder is posited, and we get occasional glimpses of how great a writer Keeler could probably be at times:
Lou looked down at the body seated at the table. In but a few moments — vital moments for somebody right now, perhaps — while they had talked, talked, talked countless words of speculation, a “suicide” who had “suicided” because of receipt of a bottled deuce in the mails — had become a murder victim, representing merely a staged “suicide”. And the minutes they’d talked around here, and speculated around here, had been perhaps vitally needed minutes — for the killer.