HARRY STEPHEN KEELER – The Riddle of the Yellow Zuri. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1930.

   Keeler is almost as retrograde as Edgar Wallace, say, but somehow much more enjoyable. His books are the Yard Sale of Mystery Plots, with everything and the kitchen sink tossed out in chaotic profusion. This one is wilder than most — even most Keeler — hanging on coincidences too improbable for normal readers to imagine, let along believe.

   In fact, the Jacket Blurb reads in part: “The grand climax is an absolute surprise, and no reader will be able to say, ‘I knew it from the beginning.'” You can say that again. I read the ending, and I still don’t expect it!

   As for Style, Keeler’s is all his own, a prose pattern literally so bad it’s good. I was no further than the second paragraph before I ran upon the following sentence:

   Just why the mind of Clifford Clark, mining engineer and agent for the newly created United States Government Department bearing the ponderous name of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Fraudulent Mining Stocks, should revert, the fine mornings of all mornings, to the little smoke-grey structures of East India Dock Road, was not clear to him; but it may have been a peculiar prescience due to the fact that he was shortly to receive a visitor whose business, strange and unexplainable, was to bring back nothing else than the vivid pictures of swarthy, beturbaned Indian sailors swaggering up Amoy Place and Limehouse Crescent itself as their ships moored to the East India Docks of England’s great city across the seas.

   As the sentence goes, so goes the book. Simplistic, awkward, exotic, implausible, but suffused with a child-like innocence that I find addictive … in small doses.

   The plot, if I divine correctly, encompasses two or three Stock swindles, a death-trap Safe, coded messages, a bizarre Will complete with missing heir, sacred Chinese rings, superstitious Italians, Black Comedians, Circus Folk, and the Yellow Zuri, a not-very-rare India Snake for which a fabulous reward is offered.

   Whew! Keeler should’ve won a Pulitzer just for stringing it all together!