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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The D.A. Draws a Circle

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (334)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 254: PS3513 .A6322 D27 1948
Contributor: J. Adams-Volpe


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Madison City, California (fictional city) Date of Publication: 1948  |  Original Date: 1939 Setting: rural, small town Motives: blackmail involving insurance fraud, murder

Plot Summary

Dealing with a corpse with two bullets in it, either of which could have been the fatal shot, District Attorney Doug Selby knows that he does not have a strong case against a suspect, Pete Ribber, even though that suspect's gun fired one of the bullets. Selby is suspicious of notorious attorney A.B. Carr's interest in the case. Carr is closely watching Rita Artrim whose father-in-law mysteriously disappears. Learning that Rita and Carr's automobiles have been driven 90 miles on certain nights, Selby draws a circle with a circumference of approximately 45 miles around Madison City. By scouring the countryside inside the circle, Selby finds Rita's supposedly dead husband who had been masquerading as his own father as part of an insurance fraud. The man who died with two bullet holes in his body was a blackmailer who, with Ribber, had been blackmailing Rita and James Artrim. Carr hopes to uncover the Artrim's fraud scheme and also blackmail them. When cornered, James Artrim kills a police officer and it becomes known that he fired the fatal shot that killed the blackmailer. Found out, Rita commits suicide out of guilt and shame.

Major Characters

Doug Selby adult male, strong, masculine, handsome, district attorney of Madison City

James C. Artrim adult male, masquerading as his father, gambler

Morton Taleman adult male, middle-aged, small-time criminal

Rita Artrim adult female, sexually attractive, wife of a gambler, consumed with guilt about the life she has chosen

Alphonse Baker Carr adult male, middle-aged, tall, slender, magnetic, criminal attorney

Rex Brandon adult male, strong, masculine, tall, sheriff of Madison City and friend of the district attorney

Sylvia Martin adult female, beautiful, newspaper reporter, attracted to the D.A. and assists with investigations

Otto Larkin adult male, middle-aged, fat, clumsy and dumb, chief of police of Madison City

Mrs. Fermal adult female, middle-aged, plump, housekeeper for A.B. Carr who aids the D.A. in his investigations

Ellen Saxe adult female, attractive, practical nurse in the Artrim household

Pete Ribber adult male, tattoo, cruel face, criminal who takes the fall for shooting his partner

Sam Roper adult male, middle-aged, previous D.A. of Madison City who is constantly trying to oust Selby

Bill Jenkins adult male, police officer shot and killed by James Artrim



Level of Violence

muted; two shootings with low-key descriptions


mild; flirtation between the main character and newspaper reporter companion. Wife of murderer is sexually attractive.

Gender Roles

traditional; women are depicted as helpmates, although several women hold influential jobs (newspaper reporter, legal secretary).


none; all characters are presumably caucasian.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco) is frequent, integral to the work environment.

Law Enforcement

the main characters who are in law enforcement are depicted as strong, masculine and smart; however, some minor characters in law enforcement are portrayed as stupid and unattractive.

Added Features

in a possible foreshadowing of the O.J. Simpson trial, the novel contains an incident in which the police ask a suspect to try on a glove that turns out to be too tight. The phrase "last picture show" appears in the novel, in later years the title of a Larry McMurtry novel.

Subject Headings

California - Madison City (Fictional Town)/ Public Prosecutors/ Blackmail/ Law and Lawyers/ Murder

Psychological Elements

Rita Artrim, co-conspirator and wife of the murderer, is driven by guilt and finally commits suicide.