Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Now For a Little Personal Detective Work"

Harry Stephen Keeler's 1934 Dutton Clue Mystery, THE RIDDLE OF THE TRAVELING SKULL, "begins when a poem and a mysterious handbag lead a man to the grave of Legga, the Human Spider — and things just get stranger from there."

Based on that description, I would understand if you left the blog right now to grab a copy. Keeler's one of those "so bad he's good" authors. Here's a snippet from NPR: "Among the classic Keeler plots: A man is found strangled to death in the middle of a lawn, yet there are no footprints other than his own. Police suspect the 'Flying Strangler-Baby,' a killer midget who disguises himself as a baby and stalks victims by helicopter."

If you're still here -- bonus points if you happen to be a teacher or librarian looking for fun activities for students -- I'd like to show you a wonderful quirk of Dutton Clue Mysteries circa 1930.

Partway through each book in the series, a tear-away coupon invited the reader to "enter the story" and predict the ending by mailing their deductions and the reasoning behind them to the publisher. When three such correctly solved cards were received, the reader won a free Dutton Clue Mystery.

A friend sent me a postcard of the tear-away from THE RIDDLE OF THE TRAVELING SKULL, below (image reissued in 2005 by the Collins Library, an imprint of McSweeney's Books).

Next time your book club, summer reading challenge club, or literature class chooses a mystery, why not insert a similar card for extra credit or prizes? Readers will get the fun of analyzing clues, discussing possible answers, and laying out the method behind their theories.

You can follow this format:

Sarah Skilton lives in California with her magician husband and their young son. Her debut young adult novel, BRUISED, about a 16-year-old black belt in Tae Kwon Do who freezes up at an armed robbery, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is available now!


  1. Okay, after reading this, I investigated Harry Stephen Keeler further... how could I not? Just the titles alone are amazing. The Skull of the Waltzing Clown! The Case of the Lavender Gripsack! The Case of the Two-Headed Idiot! I want to collect them all!

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  5. I like that! It'd be easy to incorporate to ebooks! (In my imagination at least.)


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