Sunday, 16 August 2015

Penguin no. 1620: The D.A. Draws a Circle
by Erle Stanley Gardner

Morning found Doug Selby lying in that condition of delicious drowsiness which is half sleeping and half waking, a warm, lazy languor. Birds were hopping through the eucalyptus tree which shaded his window. Down the slope were the fronds of palm trees, and below them Madison City, glinting in the early morning sunlight, seeming fresh washed and sparkling in its cleanliness. Overhead the blue-black of the California sky showed as a vast depth of cloudless azure. The morning sunlight, splashing through the window to glint on the counterpane of Selby's bed, made crime seem distant and remote, a hideous man-made nightmare superimposed upon a universe which was attuned to the singing of birds and the rustling of leaves.

A resident of Orange Heights, one of the better residential areas in Madison County, calls the police late at night to report the sighting of a naked man running along the edge of the deep canyon which separates her property from her neighbour's. Not long after, and just as the police arrive, a pistol shot is heard. Three young boys find an unclothed body the next day in a cleft of the barranca, and there is no doubt that the victim has been murdered. Perplexingly, he has been shot twice, with both bullets following almost the same trajectory and passing through the same bullet hole. More perplexingly, one bullet has been shot directly into the victim's naked flesh, and the other has been shot through fabric.

The chances of convicting anyone of the murder seem remote, as the forensic science of the time has no way of determining which of the two bullets was responsible for the man's death. It seems to everyone in rural Madison County that a clever subterfuge of this kind has all the hallmarks of the intervention of a big-city lawyer, one with a brilliant mind, a good understanding of the law and an affinity with criminals. A.B. Carr is just such a lawyer and he has recently taken up an unwelcomed residence in Orange Heights. His lavish and spacious property abuts the barranca in which the victim's body was found.


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