The Monocled Monster (Harry Stephen Keeler) Review
This is the third Harry Stephen Keeler novel that I've read. Providence (and the Internet) chose this less discussed work as my Keeler No. 3, since I am interested in reading the original first printings whenever possible.
Brain surgery is the catalytic event in this story of a recovering amnesiac in alternate post-World War II Chicago.
I fully enjoyed this novel, though not quite as much as 'The Riddle of the Traveling Skull' and 'The Case of the Two Strange Ladies.' All of these books have far more explained back story than actively experienced events, but the ratio of exposition to incident in 'The Monocled Monster' seemed like something along the lines of 15 to 1. Additionally, the conveyed expositions are a bit too repetitive, which makes the book feel occasionally as if it is stalling (or padded). The plotting is loaded with surprises, and Keeler uses a surfeit of magnificent coincidences to shape the narrative. Ultimately, his mission is accomplished: I was keenly interested to the very last page.
One could argue that Keeler pranks his reader in many (or perhaps all) of his books, yet in The Monocled Monster—because of the lack of current incidents and the less engaging personalities of the characters—I was continually aware of the author's machinations rather than carried through the story by a strong emotional investment in the protagonist. (This criticism I could also level at two of my other favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.) Intellectual curiosity and marveling at the wild mind of Keeler were what compelled me onward more than any direct attachment to the drama.
Nonetheless, the stunning twists, the clever narrative hoaxes, the acrobatic sentences describing the world (especially its inhabitants and furnishings), and the many musings on brain surgery (and the publishing industry) make the 'The Monocled Monster' a playful and intellectually stimulating experience.
Not long after completing this book, I joined the Harry Stephen Keeler Society.