In my search for new (to me) authors and series, I’ve come across Doug Selby novels by Erle Stanley Gardner.
Doug Selby is a fictional creation of Erle Stanley Gardner. He appears in nine books, most originally serialized in magazines. He was portrayed by Jim Hutton in a 1971 television movie, They Call It Murder, loosely based on The D.A. Draws a Circle—the only film adaptation of the series.
Doug Selby started his literary life as the newly elected District Attorney (D.A.) in the fictional Madison County, California (based on Ventura County, California, where Gardner lived and worked for a time). The city and county were politically corrupt, though Doug and the newly elected Sheriff Rex Brandon ran on a reform ticket and won the offices of District Attorney and Sheriff.
Life as a rural county D.A. was not easy for Selby. In his first case (The D.A. Calls It Murder), the opposition newspaper The Blade steadfastly opposed him, and called for his resignation over his first case. Was it murder? Even Sylvia Martin, the reporter for the Clarion (the friendly newspaper that supported his campaign, and was loyal to him afterwards) gave him only 24 hours to solve the crime — and prove himself worthy of the office. The Blade was totally ruthless in their attacks against Selby. It was eventually revealed they were part of a political machine that ran the county, though in the final book the new owner was just out for profit via political persecution. Selby, as the D.A., encountered several additional cases. His next, documented in The D.A. Holds a Candle, pitted him against a wealthy family of the area. A daughter of the family, Inez Stapleton, was Doug’s love interest before he ran for district attorney. Doug eventually showed her brother was part of a criminal conspiracy, which ruined the family’s social standing, though Inez seemed to love Doug all the more and was determined to make him respect her. She decided to become a lawyer herself and stand against him in that quest.
Doug’s greatest opponent was the great criminal defense attorney Alphonse Baker Carr, who claimed to be seeking a peaceful rural community in which to retire from his Los Angeles practice. In The D.A. Draws a Circle A.B.C. figured out a criminal case through which he could blackmail his way into local influence. He was able to escape prosecution, but remained the arch-enemy of Selby through the rest of the series.
A.B. Carr was portrayed as a kind of Bizarro World opposite of Perry Mason – unscrupulous, amoral and cynical; and Doug Selby as the opposite of Hamilton Burger, being concerned solely with justice and equity, not caring a fig about his batting average as a prosecutor; or about his image in the press.
Inez Stapleton returned to Madison City sometime after that, having earned her law degree and license, having passed the bar exam. She was his opponent in a case during The D.A. Goes to Trial, though Selby dropped the charges against her client after finding the proof he needed to arrest and convict the guilty party.
Doug Selby resigned as the D.A. of Madison County sometime prior to The D.A. Breaks a Seal. He had enlisted in the military as an intelligence officer, but returned to Madison City while on leave. In the process, he helps many of his old friends. He helps his former partner, Rex Brandon, to arrest a killer; his old flame and good friend, Inez Stapleton, to win a will contest lawsuit (which involved a very clever case of perjury) against A.B.C.; and provides his reporter friend, Sylvia Martin, with the story behind a murder and an attempted murder.
Doug Selby returned to Madison County, and was again the D.A. for the final two stories. Talk from The D.A. Takes a Chance shows that Selby, after returning from his service in World War II, was popular enough to regain the D.A. job. He again fought for justice, and dealt some crippling blows against his old nemesis in that book. Selby finally got needed proof to charge A.B.C. with criminal conspiracy; however, it was negated by a brilliant piece of legal strategy by the lawyer. Selby returned for a final book, The D.A. Breaks an Egg, which explores some of the ramifications of the strategy used in the previous book, and leads up to a final showdown between Selby, Sheriff Brandon and A.B. Carr. The end of the book is shown as a work in progress. Although Gardner had decided to end the series at that point, he left enough uncertainty in the resolution to make it possible that old A.B.C. would slip out of it yet again, giving Gardner the option of writing more “D.A.” stories with his established villain.
The Doug Selby books often point out what is right and wrong about American justice systems. While Selby and Brandon were a partnership geared towards the ideals of justice, Madison City police chief Otto Larkin was portrayed as a political hack, who arrested suspects and would just blame the D.A. if there wasn’t a conviction. Similarly, in The D.A. Breaks a Seal Brandon tells Selby that the new D.A. would blame him for not getting the evidence needed to convict. (Source: Wikipedia)
Bibliography: The D.A. Calls it Murder (1937); The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938); The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939); The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940); The D.A. Cooks a Goose (1942); The D.A. Calls a Turn (1944); The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946); The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948); and The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949).
I’ve managed to get hold of all nine books in the series and I’m looking forward to reading them in due course. Stay tuned.
About the Author: Erle Stanley Gardner, (born July 17, 1889, Malden, Mass., U.S.—died March 11, 1970, Temecula, Calif.), American author and lawyer who wrote nearly 100 detective and mystery novels that sold more than 1,000,000 copies each, making him easily the best-selling American writer of his time. His best-known works centre on the lawyer-detective Perry Mason.
The son of a mining engineer, Gardner traveled extensively with his family throughout childhood. He dropped out of Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind., after a brief time and settled in California, where he worked as a typist in a law firm. After three years he was admitted to the California bar (1911) and began defending poor Chinese and Mexicans as well as other clients. His interest in the friendless and unjustly accused was lifelong and led to his founding of The Court of Last Resort in the 1940s, an organization dedicated to helping men imprisoned unjustly.
While practicing trial law in Ventura, Calif., he began writing for the pulp magazines popular at that time, creating accurate courtroom scenes and brilliant legal maneuvers resembling his own legal tactics. By 1932 he was writing more than 200,000 words a month while still working two days a week in his law practice. With the successful publication of the first Perry Mason detective stories, The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) and The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933), however, he gave up the law. Eighty Perry Mason novels followed. Gardner later supervised the adaptation of the Perry Mason stories for radio, television, and motion pictures.
A second series of books, built around Doug Selby, a virtuous crusading district attorney, all had titles beginning “The D.A. . . .”: The D.A. Calls It Murder (1937) and The D.A. Goes to Trial (1940). A third series, written under the pseudonym A.A. Fair, dealt with the adventures of the fat, middle-aged, greedy private detective Bertha Cool and the knowledgeable legalist Donald Lam. (Source: Britannica)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Calls It Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1937)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Holds a Candle by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1938)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Draws a Circle by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1939)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Goes to Trial by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1940)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Cooks a Goose by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1942)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Calls a Turn by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1944)
Facsimile Dust Jacket The D. A. Breaks an Egg by Erle Stanley Gardner. Morrow Mystery (USA) (1949)