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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Backward Mule

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books of Canada, Ltd. (855)
Place of Publication: Montreal, Canada
Catalog #: Kelley Box 248: PS3513 .A6322 C219 1952
Contributor: S. Roe


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: San Francisco, California Date of Publication: 1952  |  Original Date: 1946 Setting: urban, including San Francisco's Chinatown Motives: theft, blackmail, murder

Plot Summary

Terry Clane, returning to San Francisco after concluding some successful war work in China, is met by the police and taken in for questioning. An investor for Cynthia Renton, his former fiance, has been murdered. A man was convicted of the murder, but escaped just as his appeal was about to reach the Supreme Court. Cynthia has disappeared. Terry will need both his skills of concentration (learned in the Orient) and his photographic memory to solve this case. Unfortunately these skills aren't matched by an ability to understand the women in his life -- Cynthia and Sou Ha.

Major Characters

Terry Clane adult male, called "Owl" by his former fiance, dark wavy hair, occupation unclear; seems to be a free-lance problem solver, possibly employed by the government during World War II

Horace Farnsworth adult male, middle-aged, investment dealer

Edward Harold adult male

Yat T'oy adult male, Chinese, inscrutable eyes, mind that knows virtually everything which touches upon Clane's life or which might conceivably affect his happiness, Clane's trusted servant or "man of all work"

Cynthia Renton adult female, wild, impulsive, unconventional, portrait painter

Sou Ha adult female, Chinese, sparkling, vivacious young girl who had superimposed the education of a Western college upon an Oriental background


.38 caliber revolver

Level of Violence

very little violence; murders are implied, not explicitly described


just a few kisses (heterosexual)

Gender Roles

traditional. There is a lovely quote on the last page indicating that Clane doesn't seem to understand the motives and feelings of the two women in the story, but realizes that he doesn't: "Inspector Malloy said musingly, A remarkably talented young man. A rank amateur, Cynthia said, so savagely that Malloy turned to her in surprise. The things that a really smart man should know, he doesn't know a damn thing about!"



Alcohol/Drug Abuse


Law Enforcement

local police

Subject Headings

California - San Francisco/ Murder/ Blackmail/ Theft