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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (201)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 253: PS3513 .A6322 C2874 1948
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California Date of Publication: 1948  |  Original Date: 1936 Setting: urban; homes, offices, hospitals and hotels; dockside area Motives: greed, murder

Plot Summary

Bishop William Mallory of Sydney, Australia consults with Perry Mason about the statute of limitations in a manslaughter case that took place in California twenty-two years ago. Curiosity about the bishop's stutter prompts Mason to question the man's true identity, and he decides to launch an investigation of the manslaughter case. Mason learns that Julia Brownley, the woman charged in the case, is now desperately trying to prove that her daughter, whom she gave up for adoption, is actually the rightful grandaughter of wealthy businessman Renwold Brownley, and that the girl currently living in Brownley's home is an imposter. There is an enormous fortune at stake, and when Brownley is found dead, Julia becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Mason, with the assistance of Della Street and Paul Drake, follows a twisting maze of clues, false leads and mistaken identities before he unmasks the real killer and exposes the group of clever conspirators who are after the Brownley fortune.

Major Characters

Perry Mason adult male, famous and highly skilled attorney, enjoys matching wits with criminals and opposing counsel

Paul Drake adult male, owner of the Drake Detective Agency, frequently plays devil's advocate as Perry outlines his strategy for the case

Della Street adult female, attractive, supportive, Mason's private secretary and confidante

William Mallory adult male, middle-aged, noticeable stutter, Church of England bishop

Renwold Brownley adult male, elderly, white hair, ruthless, cold-hearted, multimillionaire real estate magnate

Julia Branner Brownley adult female, middle-aged, reddish brown hair and eyes, strong, feisty, willing to defy convention, mother of Renwold Brownley's true grandaughter

Janice Seaton adult female, 20s, red hair, blue eyes, attractive, adopted daughter of Charles and Grace Seaton (real daughter of Julia and Oscar Brownley)

Janice Brownley adult female, 20s, unscrupulous, scheming, poses as the grandaughter of Renwold Brownley in the hope of inheriting a fortune

Philip Brownley adult male, grandson of Renwold Brownley, stands to inherit a sizeable portion of his grandfather's estate

Stella Kenwood adult female, late 40s, drab, thin, sallow complexion, mousy appearance, wants only the best for her daughter

Peter Sacks adult male, tall, broad-shoulders, early 40s, tough, private detective

Victor Stockton adult male, stocky, gray eyes, gray mustache, private detective

Gordon Bixler adult male, 45 years old, yachtsman


gun, fists

Level of Violence

one person is shot to death; brief descriptions of several fight scenes


slight hint of a romantic relationship between Perry Mason and Della Street, with occasional descriptions of flirting glances and hand-holding.

Gender Roles

female characters are secretaries and nurses; Julia Branner is independent and willing to buck tradition, whereas Stella is weak and greedy. Mason and his client are the moral "good guys" fighting to overcome the gang of fortune hunters. The conspiracy of male and female thieves is no match for Mason's superior intelligence, legal cunning and detective skills. Della Street is strong, intelligent, and willing to put herself into dangerous situations to help her boss. She cleverly turns the tables on Paul Drake's theory that women are unable to "develop the types of minds that detectives need to have."


not evident

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

no drugs; moderate amount of social drinking. Mason and Drake share a bottle of whiskey on a rainy night; several characters smoke cigarettes and cigars on a regular basis; the bishop smokes a pipe. Alcohol was a factor in the car accident that resulted in the manslaughter case.

Law Enforcement

no individual members of the police force are mentioned. Paul Drake and his operatives manage to outwit the police several times in order to gain access to a crime scene. The district attorney is Mason's chief legal adversary and he takes great pleasure in implicating Mason in the case.

Added Features

despite his reputation as a famous attorney, Mason expresses his willingness to help "the little guy" on more than one occasion, and states that he is willing to sacrifice his fees if he believes in the innocence of his client. Those with money generally command power, but Mason doesn't hesitate to accept a case if he thinks justice will be served. Humor is evident throughout the novel, especially reflected in Mason's dry wit and the light bantering engaged in by Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake.

Subject Headings

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

Psychological Elements

Stella Kenwood is said to suffer from a "warped mentality" and have a misplaced sense of a mother's love.