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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Lame Canary

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (223) - 16th printing
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 251: PS3513 .A6322 C25 1946
Contributor: M. Moran


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1937 Setting: urban, large city; middle-class neighborhood Motives: two murders occur, both because of a scheme in which businesses are heavily insured, then set on fire after the most valuable goods are removed from the building, and the insurance companies made to pay a large settlement. Motives of self-defense, jealousy, and hatred are thrown out as red herrings.

Plot Summary

A young woman carrying a caged canary that has a hurt claw asks Perry Mason to defend her sister and herself against what turns out to be a murder charge. With the help of his secretary, Della Street, and detective Paul Drake, Mason discovers the identity of the murderer and a group of arsonists connected with one of the murder victims.

Major Characters

Perry Mason "Chief," adult male, 40s, rugged features, steady eyes, brusque manner; "nothing in Perry Mason's appearance indicated that his agile brain, unconventional methods, and daring techniques made him the city's most feared and respected trial lawyer." He expresses interest only in cases that involve mysteries, and has never lost a murder case.

Della Street adult female, attractive, Perry Mason's legal secretary. In previous books, it was evident that she was in love with her boss; in this story, Mason actually proposes to her and she refuses his offer.

Paul Drake adult male, tall, thin, slightly protruding eyes, good-natured, drawling voice, "....he looked more like a drunken undertaker than a detective." Drake expresses more concern for working within the law than Mason does.

Rita Swaine adult female, 27 years old, no occupation, determined to protect her sister

Rosalind Prescott adult female, "chestnut-haired, brown-eyed, vivacious," married to Walter Prescott and sister of Rita Swaine

Jimmy Driscoll adult male, late 20s, "slightly above average height, with the broad shoulders, slim hips, and easy grace of an athlete," dark curly hair, black eyes "smoldering with intense fires," investment broker; has a substantial trust fund; mother feared he would turn to drink

Walter Prescott adult male, middle-aged, insurance adjuster, married Rosalind for her money; involved in scheme with arsonists to defraud insurance companies; killed by another member of the group

Jackson Weyman adult male, early 40s, slender, drinks heavily, brawls; in on the arsonist scheme, he kills Prescott and Braun, an insurance investigator

Jason Braun a.k.a. Carl Packard, adult male, investigating the arson case; killed when it becomes apparent that he is suspicious of Prescott. Jackson Weyman briefly poses as Braun to delay the discovery of his death and set up an alibi.


a gun is used to kill Prescott; Braun is rendered unconscious in an automobile accident, then killed with blows to his head, and his body found in what appears to be another accident.

Level of Violence

Mason supposes what happened to Braun, but the reader doesn't see any of the actual violence. Mason hits Driscoll at one point; Weyman, trying to escape, hits a doctor. There are threats made, but little action.


at the beginning of the novel, a big point is made of the fact that a snoopy neighbor of the Prescotts saw Driscoll and Rosalind Prescott in a passionate embrace. They don't want Prescott to be told about it for fear he could use it against them in a divorce case. Mason's proposal to Della involves no more than a kind of business proposition, and the most amorous he gets is sliding an arm around her waist.

Gender Roles

traditional throughout. Della's reason for refusing Mason's marriage proposal: "We're getting along swell the way it is. You'd establish me in a home somewhere as your wife. Then you'd get a secretary to help you with your work. The first thing you knew, you'd be sharing excitement and experiences with the secretary and I'd be entirely out of your life." At one point Mason explains why he suspects the adjustor's beautiful secretary of being in on the plot: "The redhead in Prescott's office looked like a phoney to me....she didn't look the part of a legitimate stenographer, secretary and receptionist." Mason and Drake portray the typical rugged hero and slightly humorous sidekick.


not a significant factor. A German pet store owner speaks stereotypically broken English.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Weyman drinks to excess. His wife is embarassed by this; Paul Drake is contemptuous. Cigarettes and cigars appear, but less noticeably than in other books.

Law Enforcement

Sergeant Holcomb, of the L.A. homicide squad, is Mason's nemesis. He act belligerantly toward Mason, trying to catch him in illegal behavior, and is ultimately a step behind the lawyer in solving crimes. Holcomb smokes a cigar. Police officers in general do not appear very bright. Traffic officer Edward Bird at the inquest: "advancing to be sworn, apparently enjoying the interest he aroused, stood very erect as he faced the jury, and made certain that the coat of his uniform was snuggly fitting and unwrinkled. He adjusted the gun which hung at his hip...." The coroner and others involved in the inquests are honest men, doing their jobs conscientiously. Perry Mason comes close to the legal line at times, but is able to cover himself and his co-workers.

Subject Headings

California - Los Angeles/ Mason, Perry/ Murder/ Law and Lawyers/ Arsonists

Psychological Elements

Mason is a thinking detective, "figuring the thing from the standpoint of psychology," as he gathers information from Drake, his clients, and his own mulling over things. Mason has little patience with thinking from others. When Rita attempts to explain her actions, he says, "Never mind the psychology, what did you do?" Although Mason had no personal contact with Prescott, he says "I figured that Walter Prescott had the psychology of a murderer rather than that of a victim...." Weyman is depicted as an all-around dislikable bad man, married to a long-suffering wife.