The Case Of The Shoplifter’s Shoe (1938) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Perry Mason is out with his assistant Della Street when he sees a woman accused of shoplifting in a department store. Seeing the potential for a case, given his role as a defence attorney – or possibly given the size of the offence, he just wants to stick his nose in – he intervenes, defending the woman until her niece arrives and acknowledges her aunt’s guilt.

Soon, thereafter, the aunt, Sarah, is suspected of something a little more series – the theft of a valuable set of diamonds, and Mason is recruited to defend her. But when the diamond merchant who gave the jewels to Sarah is found dead, and with a second body appearing in quick succession, it falls to Mason to prove Sarah innocent – even if she wasn’t…

Have you ever had that feeling where you know you’re reading a book and yet it’s just not registering with you at all? It’s a bit like when you’re not concentrating on a film and suddenly the credits roll and you can’t remember a thing about it, although in that case, you’ve usually spent the time reading, doing a crossword or generally ignoring the screen. It’s hard to actively ignore a book that you’re actually reading, but that was the case with this.

It’s a decent book, apparently. Kate over at Cross Examining Crime loved it, and Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery! thought it was good. I find it hard to rate it good or bad, as I just never connected with it. Was it the book’s fault? Was it my fault? Things are more than a little busy at the mo, and I’m still grumbling at the rail network for making me miss Bodies this year, so I was reading it piecemeal, rather than in one long run, but at no point was I ever particularly engaged enough to keep turning the pages.

Thinking about it, this is a reasonably common occurrence that I have with US writers, especially in the Golden Age. There are a number of such books that I’ve started and haven’t gripped me enough to persevere, despite not reading very much of it at all – and this is my fault, not the books. Frederic Brown and Cornell Woolrich are two such examples and the books in question are highly lauded. Vultures In The Sky took an effort to get to grips with as well. Is this some sort of reading regionalism? Does the familiar (i.e. country villages and stately homes) keep my attention more because it requires marginally less effort? Is this the Americanisms that jar with me? Or do I just need to make time to read in longer chunks? After all, I’ve not had much of an issue with Ellery Queen…

So what can I remember, before this becomes all about me and my reading issues? Well, the trial bit at the end is fine, with a reasonable twist in the final events. I need to return to give Gardner a fairer shot – I really liked The Case Of The Baited Hook – but maybe I need to give it some time. Any recommendations would be gratefully received…


  1. I’ve not had knock out reads with all of the Gardner novels that I have read. Some were a bit more ‘meh’. I remember TCOT Restless Red Head being such a one. Surprised though that if you struggle with American mystery fiction that you enjoy Queen? Surely the pinnacle of the hard-work GAD reading lol Queen and Van Dine are the two I have struggled to properly enjoy.


  2. There are several Gardner novels I’d suggest (having read a good proportion of them), including “The Case of the Rolling Bones” (which has Mason pulling an absolutely outrageous courtroom trick), “The Case of the Negligent Nymph” (which involves a dying message of sorts) and “The Case of the Terrified Typist” (I can’t say much about this one, for avoidance of spoilers). I don’t know how easy his books are to come by nowadays – you can no longer walk into any charity shop and be almost sure to find a Gardner title there.
    I can’t help quoting something from P. G. Wodehouse (from memory, so it may not be quite accurate): “I got a book and tried to read, but I kept getting mixed up between the murder gun, the substitute gun and the gun that Perry Mason had buried in the shrubbery…” – a pretty accurate description of a typical Gardner trope.

    Liked by 1 person

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