Concerning this Keeler opus Todd Downing wrote in December: "My personal opinion is that it is too long, too complicated, too scientific, for anyone but a Robinson Crusoe." He added discouragingly: "Everyone to whom I have loaned it, including an anthropologist, has returned it unfinished."
|Z-ray of death?|
So maybe Todd Downing bit off more than he could chew picking Matilda Hunter as his first Keeler. Downing later became, it should be noted, a warm admirer of the author. Not being able to resist a challenge, I decided, eighty-one years after Downing, to take a waltz with Matilda.
I've made it to page 104, a bit less than 15% of the novel (oh, didn't I mention that it's 741 pages of rather small print?). So far I'm pleased to say I don't yet find the novel an unscalable precipice. Though I have to say things have moved rather slowly (Keeler doesn't stint on such things as verbatim insurance policies and newspaper stories, and there's lots and lots of detailed conversation).
So far Keeler has introduced:
Victor Michaux, supposed inventor of the Z-ray machine, which supposedly emits what I believe are known to scientists as radioactive death ray thingummies (to use advanced technological terminology).
Jerry Evans, Chicagoan and hero of the tale, whose aunt
Matilda Hunter is killed by Michaux's Z-ray machine (supposedly), which was (supposedly) in a black satchel that she had brought to Jerry's rooms because Michaux had disappeared. The widow Hunter was Michaux's landlady and the satchel had been left with her. Oh, and she took out a $2500 insurance policy in nephew Jerry's favor. This, along with her death, makes a timely windfall for Jerry, who needs $2500 to marry
Carolle Harbison, niece of the wealthy
Interestingly Jerry has just seen Michaux leave the Harbison premises (with the black satchel).
There's also a visiting Eastern cousin of Jerry's
T. Percy deVoy, a journalist who coincidentally has written about
Cyril Burthrick, English expert on radioactive death ray thingummies. Oh, and this gent has six fingers on each hand ("Polydactylic, you know," explains deVoy. "Geniuses frequently are!").
|Todd Downing demurred|
with his first Keeler
yet came to admire the author
I will keep you posted, providing as well further tidbits about the splash this novel made back in 1931. There's actually quite a bit of interesting background out there on this exceptionally lengthy detective novel.
And, fear not, I'll be doing at least one (I hope two) additional, non-Keeler book this week as well.
Man cannot live by Keeler alone, even at nearly 750 pages of the author's super-stupendous, patented webwork plotting.