Friday, 5 February 2016

The Case of the Invisible Circle by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1956

Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

Any veteran investigator will tell you that it's very easy to overlook the most significant clue in a murder case. 

Erle Stanley Gardner wrote The Case of the Invisible Circle for the July 1956 issue of Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine. It is one of dozens of short stories and novelettes he published over more than four decades. These do not include the series of novels and stories based on his principal character, Perry Mason, and lesser-known protagonists like Cool and Lam, Doug Selby, Terry Clane, and Gramps Wiggins.

The Case of the Invisible Circle differs from his trademark mysteries in that there is a crime that is so perplexing as to baffle the police and pathologists.

The first-person narrator of the story, who I assume is the writer himself, is sent by the city editor of the Denver Post to the capital of Colorado — to investigate and report on the brutal rape and murder of a beautiful college girl, whose body is discovered at the bottom of a snow-covered ravine. He is accompanied by Dr. LeMoyne Snyder, a famous medico-legal specialist and author with a keen eye for homicide cases.

District attorney Hatfield Chilson, who is described as “a shrewd lawyer, a competent investigator and, above all, a fair man,” is in charge of the case. Our storyteller and Dr. Snyder assist him in getting to the bottom of the sex crime that has eluded police officers, forensics experts, and pathologists.

The challenging mystery is eventually solved after the men discover a vital clue in one of the photographs — a circle on the naked right hip of the girl — that everyone had missed the first time.

There is not a single dialogue in the story. The narrative is plain but engaging. I think Gardner deliberately wrote it that way. Instead, he offers the reader a structured investigation and police procedural that helps to nail the murderer in the end.

Interestingly, the author makes a strong case for the high character of district attorneys and lawyers in the country. He wants the public to know what these people are capable of and how they measure up to their responsibilities while investigating homicide cases.

If you are a fan of Erle Stanley Gardner, you will enjoy this story.

24 comments:

  1. I just remembered. I'd planned to have a forgotten friday post but never got it set up last night. sigh

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    1. Charles, I haven't participated in Patti's FFB for some months now. I hope to do so at least twice a month.

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  2. Prashant - this sounds interesting and I've not yet tried Erle Stanley Gardner.

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    1. Col, Gardner's early stories and novels, including Perry Mason, were pretty hard-boiled. I read nearly all the Perry Masons in my teens.

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  3. I think it's fascinating, Prashant, that Gardner chooses not to use dialogue in this story. It just goes to show what authors can do when they experiment. Interesting, too, that in this story (as in others he wrote) Gardner wanted to paint prosecutors and attorneys in a positive light.

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    1. Margot, I was surprised too considering that the Perry Mason novels, including the early gritty ones, have plenty of dialogue. This story almost reads like an essay or a feature in a Sunday newspaper. He was definitely experimenting.

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  4. I'll have to track this story down. I've read a lot of ESG over the years, but not this. Gardner is an underrated writer who wrote plenty of excellent stories before he hit it big with Perry Mason.

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    1. George, I found it at UNZ, where I also read his short story 'Carved in Sand.' I enjoy his non-Perry Mason stories and he had written quite a few of them.

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  5. Haven't read this, but it sounds good. Nice Post.

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    1. Thank you, Oscar. This story is one of three that forms part of an illustrated anthology, "Murder Comes In Threes - 3 Tales of Gruesome Homicide," and available at Amazon.

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  6. I was weaned on Erle Stanley Gardner, Prashant, as my lawyer dad had a shelf of his paperback bookcase dedicated to Gardner's novels--mostly Perry Mason, I should add.

    I might also include an anecdote that should ease the conscience of anyone who might feel a smidgeon of guilt over reading the guy's pretty much formulaic stuff: Bill Tangney, then a student reporter for The Princetonian, was on campus when news broke that Albert Einstein's spirit had risen above the clouds. Einstein was Genius in Residence at Princeton, so Bill dashed up to the man's office, blocked the door with a chair and began searching the office for something that would give him an unusual lede for a story. He found it when he started pulling academic tomes from Einstein's bookshelves: several Erle Stanley Gardner paperbacks. I know: ba da bing. Next time you're at Princeton, check out the archives. The story should be there.

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    1. Mathew, thanks for writing the fascinating anecdote. I feel no guilt reading and rereading the Perry Mason paperbacks. I grew up on them till I ran out of titles. I discovered Gardner's non-Perry Mason stories recently and I quite enjoy reading them.

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  7. No dialogue? That's fascinating enough in itself, makes me want to read a book with that feature. I have only read a couple of his books, many years ago, but you have piqued my interest.

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    1. Moira, Gardner was our "resident author" for many years. My dad and I read many of his books, as we did those by James Hadley Chase. This story reads well without dialogue.

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  8. I return frequently to ESG. Good, economical storytelling. I have many Gardner-Perry Mason mysteries, mostly old, yellowed, cracked and flaking paperbacks that I picked up for a few cents over the years. (Those are hard to find today, so I am glad I grabbed them when I did.) Interesting that the story you reviewed had no dialogue. The Mason books are dialogue heavy, which is one of the reasons the stories move so swiftly. (Another is Gardner’s craftsmanship.)

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    1. Elgin, I agree. The dialogue in Perry Mason novels, particularly the lengthy courtroon battles with Hamilton Burger, is what made them so appealing. Back in my teens I used to flip through the paperbacks just to see if they had court scenes. The early Mason novels, starting with THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, were gritty and unlike the ones that followed. I'm glad that Gardner's novels still hold up after all these years. I will continue to reread a couple of them every year.

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  9. This story sounds very good, Prashant. And your comments above on the grittiness of the early Perry Mason mysteries make me want to pull out the ones I have and read them soon.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. As I noted in my response to Oscar's comment, this story is part of an illustrated anthology, "Murder Comes In Threes - 3 Tales of Gruesome Homicide," which is at Amazon for under $2. I'm tempted to buy it.

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    2. I am glad you mentioned that, Prashant. I missed that comment. I will have to buy that when my buying embargo is over.

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    3. Tracy, you can, however, read this particular story at UNZ.org, as I did. I have an embargo on book buys too.

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  10. Thanks for this one Prashant - it really is about time I went back to Gardner.

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    1. You are welcome, Sergio. I dip into a Gardner or a Chase every now and then. I still have to read some of the very early Perry Masons.

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  11. I love his Perry Mason series, and I really like the sound of this one.

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    1. Hi Ryan, I have been reading ESG's non-Perry Mason short stories, which I discovered quite recently.

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