S is for Erle Stanley Gardner

This is part of the Alphabet of Crime Fiction series. Big thanks to Kerrie for doing the leg work. You can show your appreciation by heading on over to Mysteries in Paradise and either signing up or cheering everyone on.

E is for Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner was an American lawyer and author of detective stories. He is probably best known for Perry Mason, his no-holds-barred criminal attorney whose courtroom theatricals and penchant for pulling the rabbit (or the real criminal) out of the hat at the last moment has endeared him to millions of fans around the world. Gardner was born on the east coast (Massachusetts), moved to the midwest (Indiana) for law school and ultimately settled on the West Coast (California). Perhaps it is this spread of experiences that is reflected in his stories where the characters often show up from other areas of the country, often moving to LA to try their luck in hollywood, or simply drifting through the country till they get to the coast and have nowhere else to go.

Far more than his novels, perhaps Gardner’s greatest contribution has been in two areas – the popularization of scientific approaches to investigative work in general and forensics in particular, and The Court of Last Resort – the forerunner to the present day The Innocence Project. Gardner used his connections within the legal, forensic and detective communities to look into cases involving the miscarriage of justice either due to poor legal representation or the actions (malicious or otherwise) of the investigators, prosecutors or the forensic technicians involved. He didn’t just write books, he used them to make a difference in the world.

P. S. – The Perry Mason series is wonderful and if you haven’t read any of them, I strongly recommend you do. Along with Christie, these are the only books I collect.

Factoid that makes my jaw drop: According to Wikipedia, early on in his career,  Gardner set himself a goal of writing 66,000 words a week! The article doesn’t go on to say how long he kept that up but since he has over 80 books in the Perry Mason canon alone, I’d say he came pretty close.


15 responses »

  1. I had not known about Gardner’s efforts on behalf of the wrongly convicted. Not many are concerned about the problem. Arthur Conan Doyle also sought to correct real life unjust convictions.

  2. Peter – An excellent choice for S. I’ve always liked Perry Mason as a character and I’m glad you brought up Gardner’s innovations in terms of using forensic science (and the Court of Last Resort). He and his work have had a powerful influence on the genre. Folks, I agree with Peter – do read at least some of the Perry Mason series if you can. Well worth the time.

  3. Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post

    Very interesting post! I have watched the old show many many times and read a few of the books when very young. Will have to revisit them now. I like the facts you add, Peter!

  4. E, G or S, no matter what you pick, you pick a classic. 🙂

  5. Gardner was one of the first mystery writers I read, in my teens. I just this week purchased some vintage paperbacks at a book sale, and look forward to re-reading some of his books. I did not know much about Gardner beyond his writing. This was an interesting post.

    • He was one of the first mystery writers I read as well. It’s been increasingly hard to find his books in the U.S. (unless I buy online) so when I do find them, usually in some hole in the wall used bookstore, it’s always a treat.

  6. Gardner’s work in the 30s in particular is impressive and often overlooked, probablky because its more hardboiled depiction of Mason doesn;t really chime with the cuddlier vision of the later TV show starring Raymond Burr. Well worth seeking out, as are the books he write as AA Fair.

  7. Perry Mason is one of my favourite lawyers. I like the way he plays tricks in the court room and could never guess what really is happening. Thanks for the link for the video. I will check it out.


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