ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Sun Bather’s Diary. William Morrow & Co., hardcover, 1955. Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from March 5 to April 23, 1955. Reprinted many times in paperback, including Cardinal C268, February 1958; Pocket 4514, 1963; Ballantine, July 1982.

   You have to hand it to Erle Stanley Gardner for consistently coming up with openings that are sure to attract the reader’s attention, and this is certainly one of them. Della Street answers the telephone in the very first paragraph and calling is a young woman in quite a predicament. (Della’s very words.) She’s been robbed of absolutely everything, including every stitch of clothing.

   It seems as though she’s a “nature girl” who lives in a secluded trailer and likes to wander around nude but hidden from view in the California sun. When she returns to the trailer containing all her belongings, she finds it gone.

   Now this aspect of the story has little to do with the rest of the case, but you have to admit, it makes the reader sit up and take notice. As it turns out, the case involves her father who is in prison for having stolen a payroll of nearly $400,000 from an armored car. How it was done is unknown, since the money was under watch at both ends of the delivery route, as well as during.

   Also unknown is where the money is, which is why Perry’s client is under such strict scrutiny. Perry is one of those hands-on kind of attorneys, and in this one, as it so happens, if his client didn’t commit the murder that happens about halfway through, then Perry is the only other one who could have done it.

   Well, we know he didn’t, and we doubt that his client did, but how on earth could anyone else have done it? In spite of thinly written characters and his usual only utilitarian prose, Gardner as always has several tricks up his sleeve, and Perry utterly flummoxes D.A. Hamilton Burger once again, who is convinced that this time he has Perry dead to rights.

   I defy anyone to figure this one out in advance. I sure didn’t.