Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The D.A. Draws a Circle by Erle Stanley Gardner (1939)


#3 of 9 in the Doug Selby series

The full series is:
  1. The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937)
  2. The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  3. The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939)
  4. The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940)
  5. The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942)
  6. The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944)
  7. The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946)
  8. The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948)
  9. The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949)

Major characters:

  • Alphonse Baker Carr, "Old A.B.C.", shyster lawyer of choice for guilty parties
  • Rita Artrim, A.B.C.'s neighbor
  • James Artrim, Rita's husband; killed in car accident prior to story
  • Frank Artrim, Rita's disabled father-in-law
  • Abner Hendrix, Rita's father
  • Ellen Saxe, Frank's nurse
  • Peter Ribber; wanted by L.A. for larceny
  • Morton Taleman, the naked victim
  • Doug Selby, D.A.
  • Sheriff Rex Baldwin
  • Chief of Police Otto Larkin
  • Sylvia Martin, crime reporter for The Clarion

Locale: Madison City, California

Synopsis: Madison City is alarmed when shyster L.A. lawyer Alphonse Baker Carr, "Old A.B.C.", buys a home in the Orange Heights section of town. His neighbor, Rita Artrim, asks D.A. Doug Selby what can be done about it. Nothing - he can buy a home here if he wants to, nothing illegal about it. 

The L.A. police contact Selby. They are looking for Peter Ribber, believed to be a client of Carr. He has a star tattoo on his arm. Shots are reported near Carr's house, police find a naked body in the barranca (ravine) between the Carr and Artrim homes, and the body has a star tattoo. It isn't Ribber, though, but one of his buddies Morton Taleman. He had been shot twice in the same spot, by different guns. The case becomes one of determining which shot killed him. Meanwhile, Frank Artrim, Rita's disabled father-in-law, goes missing - and blood is found in her basement.

Selby is convinced Carr is shielding Ribber, and Rita is hiding her father-in-law. Selby tracks odometer readings on their cars to find they are being driven similar miles - perhaps to a hideout. He draws circles on a map to try to find the hideout.

Review: Oh, the neighbors you find in the ritzy hill section: hard-drinking NIMBY Rita Artrim who detests her new lawyer neighbor, sleazy A.B. Carr. Carr actually comes across quite pleasant, just doing his job in the most courteous way he can. The sub-plot of the competition between county officials (Selby and Brandon) and city officials (Larkin) is nastier than the conflicts with Carr, and perhaps a peek into a true situation that exists out there. This type of conflict never shows in the Perry Mason series where law enforcement is one big happy family; and it adds to the tension and drama. 

Ribber is being held for trial and the jail visits by Selby to try to shake him up are quite funny. 

The gradual location of the hideout using circles on a map demonstrates the thoroughness of police work. There is a surprise at the end when the hideout is found.

Secretary Amorette Standish is back, popping in and out of the office - I am so used to the Della Street character I am always expecting something to develop with her, but no go. Selby would rather hang out with stylish Brenda Starr-like Sylvia Martin, who has no fear of chasing down bad guys in a tight skirt and high heels.

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