Well, given it’s been a week for recommending reads, we’d be woefully remiss not to tell you that today is Eale Stanley Gardner’s death day (in 1970). Gardner is a local boy, who’s law offices were just up the road. Given he killed off so many people in his novels, it didn’t seem like focusing on his birthday was that important!
Gardner practiced in our local area from 1911, and at his Ventura firm from 1921 until 1933, when The Case of the Velvet Claws was published. Much of that novel (it also became a movie in 1936) was set at the historic Pierpont Inn, which was just down the road from his law office.
Gardner gave up the practice of law to devote full time to writing. In 1937 he moved to Temecula, California, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1968 he married his long-time secretary Agnes Jean Bethell (1902–2002), the “real Della Street”.
In addition to writing, Gardner donated thousands of hours to a project called “The Court of Last Resort.” With the help of many friends in the forensic, legal and investigative communities, they sought to review cases of possibly innocent criminal defendants, and if appropriate, to reverse miscarriages of justice.
Like the modern-day Innocence Project, most of the men (and women) were convicted owing to poor original legal representation and/or the inadequate, careless or malicious actions of police, prosecutors and most especially, with the abuse or misinterpretation of medical and other forensic evidence.
The resulting 1952 book earned Gardner his only Edgar Award, in the Best Fact Crime category, and the book was a basis for short-lived TV show in 1957-58. (The American viewing public didn’t want to really know that the justice system was flawed.)
Gardner’s most famous creation was of course, Perry Mason. And Perry’s strangest case, was one he tried in real life. This second Perry Mason novel The Case of The Curious Bride, came out in 1934 (movie, 1935) and according to the Gardner Mystery Library (Walter J. Black, Inc.):
“The Arizona murder trial was going badly for the district attorney. He knew the accused was guilty; but because of a quirk in the law, he had no hope for a conviction. Then, one day, the district attorney called the suspect’s wife to the stand and started an unexpected line of questioning. When the judge demanded an explanation, the district attorney produced The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner. In it, he said, Perry Mason used the same questioning. The Judge withdrew to his chambers, and when he returned, he allowed the district attorney to proceed with his ingenious approach. It changed the course of the trial and led to a verdict of ‘Guilty.’ ”
Now that’s a a good lawyer!