Harry Stephen Keeler’s The Peacock Fan appeared in 1941, a year before E.P. Dutton dropped him. Since 1924, Dutton had been home to 37 of his playfully intricate “webwork” mysteries — the last great secret of 20th-century literature. Fan is Keeler’s bitter, lurid take on the scribbler’s life and the undying greed of publishers: Author-translator Geoffrey Highsmith, on death row for the murder of his wife, mounts an 11th-hour defense; meanwhile, Simon Vinnedge, the merely avaricious half of Vinnedge Brothers, the firm behind Highsmith’s book of Chinese wisdom, tries to prevent him from writing a will. Thanks to a clause in the standard contract, any of their authors who dies intestate — and sans close kin — leaves all his moolah for the VB. (Simon’s brother, Dolliver, in a typical bit of Keeler grotesquerie, has a yen for hunchbacks; indeed, he’s married 22 of them!) The book now stands as a rollicking, poison-pen farewell to the dim limelight of semi-famous authordom: Keeler soon moved to the scissor-happy Phoenix imprint; by the mid ’50s, his books only appeared in Spain and Portugal. Thankfully, civilized Americans can grab a paperback Fan — in Keeler’s (ir)regular old English — from Ramble House (365 pp., $19.95,

Archive Highlights