Harry Stephen Keeler was born in Chicago on November 3, 1890. While Keeler was still in his infancy, his father died. His mother soon remarried, this time to an unstable and irresponsible adventurer who gambled away her husband’s legacy and soon afterward committed suicide. To provide for herself and her son, his mother began to operate an old-fashioned boardinghouse that catered to a theatrical clientele. After her third marriage—to a husband who died within three years—the family was compelled to live on a meager income.
Young Harry pitched in to help his mother by shoveling snow and delivering an early-morning newspaper. An indifferent student, he boasted later that while grammar and rhetoric were being taught in his high school, he was playing hooky and fishing in Lake Michigan. In 1912, however, he obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Armour (later Illinois) Institute of Technology.
Employed as an electrician in a south Chicago steel mill, Keeler began writing short stories on the side. He sold his first crime story, “Victim No. 5,” to Young’s Magazine in 1914 for ten dollars. Keeler spent the next decade writing and selling dozens of his novellas and short stories to various detective pulp magazines.
In 1919, he was married to short-story writer Hazel Goodwin, who later became a crime writer herself and—especially in his later years—her husband’s collaborator. Also in 1919, Keeler became an editor for Ten-Story Book, a position he held until 1940. The next breakthrough in his career was his selling his first book-length thriller to a British publisher. He continued to write novels for American, Spanish, British, and Portuguese audiences until his American publisher in 1957 refused to issue any more of his books. Unwilling to compromise his controversial style and content, Keeler turned to publishers abroad. His English editor also decided to stop issuing his books. In this final years, only Spanish and Portuguese publishers accepted his manuscripts.
In 1960, Hazel died. Keeler grieved so intensely over her death that he was unable to continue writing. It was not until his marriage to his former secretary, Thelma Rinoldo, in 1963 that he returned to the typewriter. By now, his only audience was in Spain and Portugal, and finally his manuscripts were rejected even there. He died in 1967, convinced that his name and novels would someday be revived and that they would receive the adulation that he thought they deserved.