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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The D.A. Calls It Murder

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books of Canada, Ltd. (263)
Place of Publication: Montreal, Canada
Catalog #: Kelley Box 254: PS3513 .A6322 D25 1944
Contributor: J. Shorten


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: Madison City, California (fictional town in southern California, 60 miles from Los Angeles, perhaps a desert town) Date of Publication: 1944  |  Original Date: 1937 Setting: urban; small town; suspects and others involved with the case are a mixture of classes: a Hollywood star, her agent, a poor small-town minister, a well-off doctor Motives: suppression of evidence, murder

Plot Summary

The Reverend Charles Brower, dead in his hotel room from an overdose of sleeping pills and a weak heart turns out to be neither the Reverend Brower nor to have died accidentally. Who is he? Why did he register under a false name? Why would someone kill him? Why does he have $5,000 in an envelope in the hotel safe? And what was movie actress Shirley Arden doing hiding in the fifth floor of the hotel that evening? Mrs. Charles Brower arrives from Nevada and reveals that the dead man is not her husband. The dead man has clippings about Shirley Arden and a lawsuit between Dr. H. Franklin Perry and Herbert F. Perry over who is the legitimate heir to Herbert's father's estate. Arden admits she saw the dead man, but is vague about the reasons. From his glasses, Selby finds that it is the Reverend William Larrabie of Riverbend, California. Dr. H. Franklin Perry killed him because Larabie had proof that his step-nephew, Herbert Perry, is actually the legitimate heir to his brother's estate.

Major Characters

Douglas Selby "Doug," adult male, "handsome young man with curly hair, a devil-may-care glint in his penetrating eyes, and a forceful although shapely, mouth," county district attorney

Shirley Arden adult female, beautiful eyes, movie actress

George Cushing adult male, middle-aged (early 50s), "tried to maintain smart, urban sophistication, pale filmed (yet insistent) eyes with puffy circles beneath them," hotel owner

Herbert Perry adult male, young, gas station attendant

H. Franklin Perry adult male, middle-aged, veterinarian

Reverend William Larrabie adult male, middle-aged, short, Methodist minister

Rex Brandon adult male, middle-aged, "twenty-five years older (than Selby), his leathery face creased into a friendly smile....hard determination (in his) grey eyes," county sheriff

Sylvia Martin adult female, young, "trimly efficient, reddish-brown eyes," newspaper reporter


poison -- an overdose of morphine in sleeping pills kills the victim; the coroner's dog is also the victim of a poisoning attempt.

Level of Violence

little violence, except for the poisonings. There is a fight between Selby and Shirley Arden's agent.


two women are attracted to Doug Selby: Sylvia Martin, the reporter, and Shirley Arden, the Hollywood actress. Selby chooses Martin, saying to Arden: "Your life lies in the glitter and the glamor. Mine lies with the four-squared friendships I've made in a community where everyone knows everyone else so intimately there's no chance for a four-flusher to get by."

Gender Roles

Rev. Larrabie appears (alive) in a scene and is somewhat a figure of amusement because he is short, slight, and speaks very precisely. Sylvia Martin is portrayed as having a career of her own, which might be viewed as rather unusual for the time period in which the novel was written.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

a minister takes sleeping powder. Selby and Arden have dinner together with a cocktail and a liqueur. A character goes into a bar for a drink. The alcohol use is social and there is no drug use.

Law Enforcement

the main characters are law enforcers, but there is political tension. They are honest, but the previous district attorney was corrupt, and this creates tension between Selby and The Blade, one of the two newspapers in the country, which supported the former D.A. The chief of police also supported the former D.A., and leaks information about the case to The Blade, to the detriment of Selby.

Subject Headings

California/ Law and Lawyers/ Murder/ Actresses

Psychological Elements

not evident; most of the novel is dialogue. The criminal is not portrayed as being insane, but is rather ruthless as he poisons a dog to distract attention from himself.