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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books of Canada, Ltd. (277)
Place of Publication: Montreal, Canada
Catalog #: Kelley Box 253: PS3513 .A6322 C2848 1944
Contributor: C. Ehlers


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1944  |  Original Date: 1936 Setting: urban Motives: business deal gone wrong, swindling, murder

Plot Summary

Perry Mason is approached by Edna Hammer, a beautiful young woman, who is worried about her uncle. Peter Kent's sleepwalking problem involves a large carving knife and an estranged alimony-loving wife. Kent pays Mason a visit of his own, hiring him to take care of his greedy wife and deal with his double-crossing business partner, Frank B. Maddox. Then Kent's half-brother, Philip Rease, is found murdered in bed, the bed that Maddox was supposed to be sleeping in, and the knife is found under Peter Kent's pillow. Perry Mason is led down numerous trails while trying to learn two things: was his client guilty, and if so, is someone who sleepwalks criminally responsible for what he does?

Major Characters

Perry Mason adult male, tall, strong, defense attorney

Gerald Harris "Jerry," adult male, "giant," strong, handsome, called "Hollywood's gift to women," adventurer, fortune hunter, an opportunist

Philip Rease adult male, middle-aged, hypochondriac, nervous, half-brother to Peter B. Kent

Della Street adult female, attractive, Perry Mason's secretary

Paul Drake adult male, tall, lanky, private detective

Peter B. Kent "Uncle Pete," adult male, 56 years old, tall, thin, has twitching fits, sleepwalker, businessman

Edna Hammer adult female, 24 years old, stunning figure, beautiful, blonde, niece of Peter B. Kent

Doris Sully Kent adult female, early 30s, attractive, wide blue eyes, full red lips, blonde hair, estranged wife of Peter B. Kent

Frank B. Maddox adult male, stoop-shouldered, high cheekbones, crack-brained inventor

Dr. James Kelton "Jim," adult male, huge, neurologist

Lucille Mays adult female, 36 years old, long-limbed, lean-waisted, tall, nurse, fiance of Peter B. Kent

John J. Duncan adult male, middle-aged, wears bifocals, Frank Maddox's lawyer

Helen Warrington adult female, tall, straight-limbed, brunette, large dark eyes, red lips, Peter B. Kent's secretary

Bob Peasley adult male, 20s, stoop-shouldered, hardware store owner, Helen Warrington's fiance

Arthur Coulter adult male, butler/chauffeur for Peter B. Kent

Detective-Sergeant Holcomb adult male, police detective in charge of the case

Sam Blaine adult male, tall, slender, glasses, assistant district attorney

Hamilton Burger adult male, broad shoulders, thick neck, powerful muscles, district attorney

Judge Markham adult male, presiding judge over the murder trial


carving knife

Level of Violence

the only violence is the murder of Philip Rease; the violence is implied.


sexuality does not play a large role; heterosexuality is implied through the secret marriage of Edna Hammer to Gerald Harris, and through the relationships between Peter Kent and Lucille Mays, Helen Warrington and Bob Peasley, and Perry Mason and Della Street.

Gender Roles

traditional; women are in subservient positions -- secretary, nurse, non-working. Physical descriptions for female characters are given much greater coverage than males. Sexist attitudes are implied; part of the society and times in which the novel takes place.


not evident

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol is mentioned only once -- Gerald Harris is serving his famous K-D-D-O (knock-down-and-drag-out) cocktails to a group of people the evening before Rease is murdered.

Law Enforcement

the local police are involved in the murder case, with Detective-Sergeant Holcomb the only specific member of the police force that is mentioned. Paul Drake, a private detective, is involved with Perry Mason; he is considered his aide-de-camp. Drake's agency does a lot of Mason's footwork for him and helps Mason solve the case quickly.

Added Features

consumerism is a major motivating factor in committing the murder. Gerald Harris covets the things, including money, that Peter Kent has. With Philip Rease out of the way, Harris's wife stands to inherit everything.

Subject Headings

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

Psychological Elements

paranoia, hypochondria and a fake neurological disorder are present. Edna Hammer is extremely anxious over her uncle's sleepwalking problem and with his difficulties concerning his estranged wife. Philip Rease, the victim, is a hypochondriac. His condition plays right into the hands of the villain, who is able to get Rease to easily switch rooms at night by playing on his hypochondriac tendencies. Peter Kent appears to have a neurological disorder which leaves him shaking uncontrollably at times. Dr. Kelton, a neurologist, determines that the disorder is real, and that Kent is not putting on an act.