“Chicago, that strange London of the West”

Fans of overblown pulp prose and convoluted plots, and of Chiagoiana, rejoice: McSweeney’s Collins Library is publishing an edition of The Riddle of the Traveling Skulls by Harry Stephen Keeler.

Harry Stephen Keeler (1890-1967) was a life-long Chicagoan and his rather odd books are often set here in his home-town. From The Riddle:

I began to review the events—such as they were—which followed my exit from the big new Union Passenger Station at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue. 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 Sherlockholmsian cap; nor of the latter’s “Barr-Bag” which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wiener-wurst 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 his 2163 pearl buttons; nor of—in short, I then knew quite nothing about anything or anybody involved in the affair of which I had now become a part, unless perchance it were my Nemesis, Sophie Kratzenschneiderwümpel—or Suing Sophie!

Thus, my review of those events. The events comprising my arrival in Chicago.

As you can tell from just that short excerpt, Keeler may not be for everyone. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman says, “I think he’s worth it, but I know that most people won’t — it’s not like a bad film, where you watch it to laugh at it; in Keeler’s case it’s not so bad it’s good — it’s actually good, it just shouldn’t be.”

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