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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The D.A. Goes to Trial

cover image By: Gardner, Erle Stanley (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc.
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 254: PS3513 .A6322 D28 1946
Contributor: J. Adams-Volpe


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Erle Stanley Gardner Geographic Locale: California Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1940 Setting: rural, small town eastern California Motives: blackmail, embezzlement

Plot Summary

The newly elected and young district attorney of Madison County, California, Doug Selby, has his hands full when the battered body of an apparent hobo is found near a railroad track. The case becomes politically sensitive with pressure from the ex-D.A. and influential citizens, especially when the local bank president is also murdered. The hobo turns out to be an accountant, John Burke. Burke's wife and her previous husband become the prime suspects as they flee and disappear. The new technology of fingerprinting becomes the focus of the novel and the means of identifying the double murderer. Young Doug Selby deals with the ire of a former girlfriend, now a lawyer, who defends the wife and her former husband. Through fingerprints and the help of a newspaper reporter, Sylvia Martin, Selby solves the double murder resulting from a motive of embezzlement.

Major Characters

Doug Selby adult male, late 20s, tall, handsome, district attorney

Mark Crandall adult middle-aged male, dignified, muscular, owner of a lumber company

John Burke adult middle-aged male, found dead at the beginning of the novel; accountant

Oliver Benell middle-aged male, overweight; bank president

Rex Brandon adult male, tall, large; sheriff of Madison City

Sylvia Martin adult female, 20s, beautiful, blonde; newspaper reporter

Inez Stapleton adult female, 20s, beautiful and a vixen; lawyer

Jim Lacey adult male, tall and big cowboy, rancher and ex-husband of Thelma Burke

Thelma Burke adult female, attractive, wife of John Burke

Sam Roper middle-aged male; former district attorney of Madison City

adult female, 20s, very attractive, secretary who has an affair with John Burke


automobile, gun

Level of Violence

mild; related second-hand in novel


major characters are sexually attractive and attracted to each other; however there are no sexual encounters in the novel

Gender Roles

extremely traditional; women are somewhat aggressive in initiating action, but are helpmates


not evident except by omission; all characters are caucasian

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

smoking is very dominant; occurring constantly -- cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco. Smoking is a social necessity.

Law Enforcement

sheriff works side-by-side with the district attorney in solving the crimes; sheriff in another district is too trusting.

Added Features

the presence of hobos (homeless men) is considered normal in this post-Depression period prior to World War II.

Subject Headings

Trials/ Public Prosecutors/ California/ Murder/ Law and Lawyers/ Homeless Persons/ Embezzlement

Psychological Elements

Thelma Burke is depressed about a failed marriage and continued love of former husband; Inez Stapleton is obsessed with Doug Selby and can't accept his disinterest.