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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Case of the Sun Bather's Diary

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (Cardinal edition C-268)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 253: PS3513 .A6322 C2887 1958
Contributor: R. Tuohy


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California and surrounding area Date of Publication: 1958  |  Original Date: 1955 Setting: urban; middle-class surroundings -- homes, gas stations, motels. The final part of the book takes place in the courtroom Motives: murder, robbery

Plot Summary

Perry Mason receives a call from Arlene Duvall who says that someone has stolen her trailer and all her clothes while she was sunbathing in the nude. She hires Mason to find her trailer (after his secretary, Della Street, brings her some clothes). She also tells him about her father, Colton Duvall, who is in prison for bank robbery. He was the bank employee in charge of setting up the cash packages for the armored car. When the packages were delivered, nearly $400,000 was missing. Arlene believes that her father is innocent and wants Mason to help her prove it. Her diary, detailing the information she has uncovered about the robbery, is in the stolen trailer. Mason recovers the trailer and starts working on the bank robbery. Learning that Jordan Ballard was the other bank employee who had his hands on the money, Mason goes to his house to talk to him. Arlene Duvall shows up just after Mason leaves and finds Ballard dead, making either Mason or herself a likely murder suspect. Arlene is arrested for the murder of Jordan Ballard. Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney, thinks he has a case against Mason for perjury committed during the grand jury investigation. There is some wonderful legal wrangling between Mason and Burger, but Mason's superior intellect serves him once again.

Major Characters

Perry Mason "Chief", adult male, middle-aged, tall, well-built, broad shoulders and narrow hips, defense attorney

Della Street adult female, 30s, pretty, smart, Perry Mason's legal secretary

Paul Drake adult male, 40s, tall, lanky, private investigator and owner of the Drake Detective Agency, whose operatives do much of Mason's sleuthing

Horace Mundy adult male, one of Drake's detectives who was on stakeout at Jordan Ballard's house the night of the murder

Hamilton Burger adult male, Los Angeles District Attorney, he would like nothing better than to find a reason to arrest Perry Mason

Arlene Duvall adult female, blonde, early 20s, 5 feet 2 inches tall, lives very comfortably with no visible means of support

Colton Duvall adult male, middle-aged father of Arlene Duvall, convicted of stealing the $400,000 bank deposit

Bill Emory adult male, drove the armored car that was robbed

Dr. Holman Candler adult male, middle-aged, the official bank doctor, ex-boxer and good friend of Arlene and Colton Duvall

Rose Travis adult female, middle-aged, redhead, Dr. Candler's head nurse

Thomas Sackett adult male, a.k.a. Howard Prim, 30ish, shady character, caught trying to sell Arlene Duvall's stolen trailer

Helen Rucker adult female, pretty, red hair, 20s, Sackett's girlfriend

Jordan Ballard adult male, mid-50s, short, gray hair, bank employee who should have been watching the money transfer but was busy watching a horse race instead


the murder victim was hit over the head with a blackjack, then stabbed three times with a carving knife

Level of Violence

minimal; the only violence was when the crime was described at the trial


none except the titillating vision of the nude sunbather who had all her clothes stolen

Gender Roles

typical for the 1950s; women are secretaries, girlfriends, or daughters


no mention of race or ethnicity at all; it is presumed that all the characters are white

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

alcohol plays a fairly important role, since Ballard is having a drink with someone when he is killed. Mason finds an important clue in the empty glasses on the counter. Alcohol consumption is portrayed as a social event.

Law Enforcement

Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney, plays a major role in this book, both before and during the trial. He is portrayed as a reasonably intelligent, competent and honest man, although he is no match for Perry Mason.

Added Features

there is a foreward written by Gardner regarding some unusual "nightmare deaths" in Hawaii that he had studied. It was somewhat surprising since the deaths were not at all related to the subject of the book. Gardner dedicated this book to Alvin V. Majoska, the medical examiner of Honolulu, whom he became friends with while investigating this series of bizarre deaths.

Subject Headings

Law and Lawyers/ Public Prosecutors/ California - Los Angeles/ Robbery/ Trials/ Mason, Perry

Psychological Elements

the interplay between Hamilton Burger and Perry Mason is one of the most interesting aspects of this book.