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The Riddle of the Traveling Skull

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  184 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
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 c
Published September 1st 1934 by E.P.Dutton (first published 1934)
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Jul 25, 2007 Nicholas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two-thirds of the way through this crazy whodunnit I encountered a page inserted by the book's original publishers, claiming that all characters had been revealed, all clues presented, and the reader should now be able to guess the culprit. This sort of thing might have been plausible in an Agatha Christie, but in this book it was essentially a cruel joke -- the reader is guaranteed to be in the dark until the final page.

"The riddle of the traveling skull", republished by McSweeney's, is apparen
Desde las primeras páginas queda claro lo que vas a leer: ”Porque hay que tener en cuenta que, a la sazón, yo no sabía absolutamente nada, como es natural, de Milo Payne, el misterioso inglés de habla típicamente londinense, que llevaba la gorra a cuadros, de larga visera, que popularizara Sherlock Holmes; ni sabía del “Maletín Barr”, tan parecido al mío como una salchicha vienesa de Milwaukee a otra; ni de Legga, la Araña Humana, con sus cuatro piernas y seis brazos; ni del ex presidiario Ichab ...more
Nate D
This book is terrible! The press sheet and foreword lead me to believe Keeler was some kind of overlooked pulp genius, or crazed modernist innovator, but he is only weakly either of those things. Rarely have I been so non-entertained by a mystery novel. The absurdist touches are there, and were perhaps surprising for their time, but they're largely tossed off and abandoned. I can just hear Keeler stalling and repeating himself as he attempts to make word quota on his 5th book of 1934. Mostly the ...more
Jan 01, 2008 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
This book came endorsed by McSweeneys, not necessarily a point in its favor. But the introduction by Paul Collins was reassuring - I had read and enjoyed two of his books. And who could resist trying an author described in the introduction as "the best worst writer ever"?

I think the standard euphemism for the kind of stuff Keeler gets up to in "The Riddle of the Traveling Skull" is "pushing against the boundaries of the genre". He appears to be making up his own rules as he goes along. The resul
Miguel Á.
May 18, 2015 Miguel Á. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, novela, adictivos
Una novela genial, adictiva, repleta de situaciones extravagantes que se van hilvanando de la forma en la que sólo Harry Stephen Keeler sabía hacerlo. La traducción deja bastante que desear, pero sigue resultando curiosa, a pesar de todo. Después de tanto tiempo sin leer al autor, recuperarlo con una novela así ha resultado todo un acierto.

Van cinco estrellas, no a la calidad literaria, no a la profundidad psicológica de los personales, pero sí al entretenimiento.
S. Zahler
Dec 30, 2014 S. Zahler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (1934) is an incredible book and my sixth favorite novel of all time.* At the beginning of this story, the protagonist comes upon an oddly adorned human skull in a travel bag, and what follows is the wildly twisting investigation of the aforementioned cranial artifact.

After reading eighty pages of this work, I ordered a couple of other books by Harry Stephen Keeler, and before I had reached the end of the novel, three (not inexpensive) first editions where en ro
Jul 14, 2007 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keeler's often hailed as being an absurdist genius. He's known for his "webwork" mysteries, which start with multiple threads that tie together by the end. One reviewer claims that Keeler is the epitome of the mystery genre writer-- that the bizarro coincidences are what define mystery fiction, as opposed to the plain-jane, mundane way that most nonfictional crimes take place. This book was completely bizarre and unfathomable-- but highly entertaining. I plan to read more Keeler in the future.
Aug 14, 2007 Peggy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long out of print or relegated to small presses, the work of Harry Stephen Keeler has faded into obscurity. This is the triumphant return of the silliest, the most convoluted, the best godawful writer of pulp mysteries the world has ever seen. Someone who liked Keeler once said that all of his books read as if they were translated from the original Choctaw. Screamo the Clown. Legga the Human Spider. I couldn’t make this stuff up – it has to be seen to be believed.
Jun 14, 2007 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives me a special kind of pleasure.
Mar 13, 2009 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dutton should've re-titled this: "The Riddle of the Holyshitwhatthefuck"
For it must be remembered that at the time I knew quite nothing, naturally, concerning Milo Payne, the mysterious Cockney talking Englishman with the checkered long-beaked Sherlock-holmsian cap; nor of the latter’s “Barr-Bag” which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wienerwurst is like another; nor of Legga, the Human Spider, with her four legs and her six arms; nor of Ichabod Chang, ex-convict, and son of Dong Chang; nor of the elusive poetess, Abigail Sprigge; nor of the Great Simon, with ...more
Jul 01, 2013 Forrest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulp, read-in-2014
What the hell did I just read?!

I received this book as a gag gift. After reading a bit about Harry Stephen Keeler's reputation as an author, I went into it expecting something truly bizarre and outré. But what I got instead appeared—at first—to be a fairly run-of-the-mill pulp mystery, which I enjoyed immensely even though (or, if I'm honest, exactly because) it was wildly overplotted, peppered with absurd twists and propped up on a precarious tower of improbable coincidences.

It was indeed bizar
Aug 31, 2013 Will rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"I paused, a foot in mid-air, with my hand on the rail. And instead of ascending those steps, I strode straight over to that shaft. The black grave-marker in front of which bore the bright white numerals '49.' And, my lower jaw hanging open, I read the inscription carved upon that granite face.

Which inscription ran:

'Here lies the famous
The Girl with Four Legs and Six Arms
Known to the Profession
Born Canton, China
Died Canton, Ohio
1917 - 1937
Erected by the Chinese
Jul 05, 2007 Pauline is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book because of this part of the books introduction about this eccentric mystery novel writer:

Keene is sometimes called the best worst writer ever -- the Ed Wood of the mystery genre. His plots consist of one jaw-droppingly coincidence after another; his writing reads like a drunken translation, filled with clangorous smiles and characters spouting loopy "dialects" that, though they be ostensibly German or Cockney, seem to originate primarily in Keeler's own cracked imagina
Feb 12, 2008 Nathanael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was warned before reading this book. In fact, the warnings that the author was off his rocker were the reason I picked this one up. But the way this book takes itself so seriously somehow kept tricking me to take it seriously too. Like being in a dream and convincing yourself that your logic is sound, and then something extraordinarily bizarre happens that jars you enough to make you reconsider what you're going along with... Hmm, wait a minute... wearing fish pajamas isn't the secret to escap ...more
Nick Duretta
'Bizarre' doesn't even begin to describe this. I knew that Keeler was an eccentric writer, to put it mildly, so I was somewhat prepared for the dazzling mishmash that is this novel. It all concerns the skull of the title, and by the time I came to the last page and was subjected to the final incomprehensible revelation, I had even less of an idea of where the damn skull came from, or what its importance could be, than I did when I began. For most of the book there seems to be a somewhat logical ...more
Andrew Maxwell
Jul 03, 2008 Andrew Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Poet. Blackmailer! Murderer!"

Harry Stephen Keeler is likely the only writer to use the word "congeries" in a descriptive paragraph only to have one of his protagonists utter the same word three paragraphs later. Elaborate disquisitions on trepanation join mini-lectures on how to achieve maximum convexity in designer handbags. Litigious missionaries cross paths with candy factory detectives, and candy factory detectives with dimwitted janitors who win jigsaw puzzle championships. The results are
Jul 20, 2009 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Hey! This is fun to read! I bought it as a gift for Jenny, but she never read it. I read it instead. When I got it I didn't realize the author had somewhat of a cult following. In some reviews, he's described as an Ed Wood type. After finishing it, I can see why. Kitschy, spooky, suspenseful, and cheesy. The writing is a bit stilted sounding and has the quality of sounded rushed. This is also not surprising, given how prolific the guy was, pumping out several mysteries every year. Truth is, it's ...more
Apr 08, 2010 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Stars. While there were definitely some passages that seemed to drag due to the author's habit of having characters give detailed, long-winded exposition, it was worth it to push to the finish and experience in full a novel by this strange man. According to the Collins Library edition, this is his 'best-loved work' and I haven't decided whether or not to ever read another Keeler novel, despite the tempting plot descriptions found at the back of this book. He's famous for his 'webwork' plotti ...more
Jun 09, 2009 Ana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My copy is, of course, the McSweeney's reprint, so I came to this mystery expecting something hip and weird. I read the introduction, so I knew Keeler was going to be strange. But even so, I was delighted and surprised from the very first sentence. It's just not possible to appreciate the nature of this writer's eccentricity without reading him yourself. Or to anticipate how much joy is involved in the way the story rolls along, picking up speed and complications. The narrator blithely postulate ...more
Chris Amies
Jul 04, 2010 Chris Amies rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The reputation of Keeler is the Ed Wood of mystery fiction, so bad it's good, and all that - but armed with that opinion I find a genre mystery thriller, albeit one with some baroque language, unlikely coincidences, weird characters and long sentences. Also, it's supposed to be funny. That Keeler did anything experimental at all seems to mark him out in this genre as beyond the pale - if it had been literary fiction nobody would have been surprised at the things he does.
Neil Gaiman's take on Ke
Jan 03, 2009 Pip rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'd recommend this for people who go through books fast, not those who get stuck with one book for a longer period of time. Sure, it was entertaining... It was pretty silly and I appreciated lots of what other people commented on in their reviews of this book, but I definitely got bored with it and wanted it to end. It took me a while to get through because I hate NOT finishing books but I just wasn't excited about it. Then again, I guess I read it more for the fact that it sounded silly and ent ...more
Mar 07, 2008 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of unusual mystery/fiction
Any author that's good enough for Dave Eggers and Futurama writers is good enough for me. Harry Stephen Keeler writes novels like nobody else; random plot elements are thrown in on every page, and though you might be hard pressed to understand how the narrator finds himself in a cemetery for deceased circus performers, you'll definitely enjoy the ride. Keeler's also a big Chicago booster, as his meticulous description of the exact street address of every location in the novel will attest. He's d ...more
Dec 22, 2009 Janean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mystery lovers, I guess
Recommended to Janean by: McSweeney's
A gripping little mystery that had me glued to its pages until the puzzle began to unravel and then my interest waned. I guess the riddle is really all there is to this story. That, and the writing.

From the introduction:
Keeler is sometimes called the best worst writer ever -- the Ed Wood of the mystery genre. His...writing reads like a drunken translation, filled with clangorous similes and characters spouting loopy "dialects" that, though they may be ostensibly German or Cockney, seem to origin
Mar 13, 2008 Noah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unintentionally hilarious, ridiculously complicated mystery. The work of a mad genius, the character names alone are worth the price of admission. The overblown descriptions and stilted dialog had me laughing from the first line. A warning: sensitive readers may be upset by the derogatory terms used for non-whites, that were common then, but if you can get beyond that it's a amusingly enjoyable read.
Laura Lynn Foster
3.5 Stars

While I really enjoyed this book, the ending left me a little confused. I know some readers find the amount of em dashes in this book annoying, but I felt like this book was quirky, and the em dashes helped to add to its quirkiness.
Dec 30, 2008 Natasha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this is one of the most confusing books i've ever read, and at the same time, utterly hilarious & entertaining. H S Keeler is considered the Ed Wood of mystery writing, the "best worst writer", and he lived up to the hype. Really, just a really good time.
Dec 04, 2008 walter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the greatest observation lies in the preface: in reality, Occam's Razor generally applies. In the world of mystery fiction, to be rational and sane is to be hyper paranoid and conspiratorial. HSK kind of goes above and beyond.

no really, don't actually read this
Mar 23, 2009 Clare rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Put simply, this is not a great book, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. It helps to not get uptight about things not making sense, because they basically don't - the ending in particular is still baffling me a few days after finishing it.

Even still, I'd recommend it as a silly quick read.
Eunice Chung
McSweeney's has a knack for publishing/endorsing very distinct books from the rest of the industry. This book certainly sustains that reputation, with its traditional mystery novel style. It was a pretty quick read, and I found it pretty amusing.
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Born in Chicago in 1890, Keeler spent his childhood exclusively in this city, which was so beloved by the author that a large number of his works took place in and around it. In many of his novels, Keeler refers to Chicago as "the London of the west." The expression is explained in the opening of Thieves' Nights (1929):

"Here ... were seemingly the same hawkers ... selling the same goods ... here t
More about Harry Stephen Keeler...

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“Either as a detective I was a good sofa-pillow crocheter, or else I was playing in the identical luck of the piccolo player when the eccentric millionaire filled up the instruments of each member of the German band with $5 gold pieces.” 3 likes
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