Doug Selby

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Doug Selby is a fictional creation of Erle Stanley Gardner. He appears in nine books, all 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.[1]

Doug Selby started his literary life as the newly elected District Attorney (D.A.) in the fictional Madison City, California. 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.

It should be noted that 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 lover and 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 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, the old A.B.C. in The D.A. Calls the Turn. In the book, Selby finally got needed proof to charge A.B.C. with criminal conspiracy; however, it was negated by his marriage to the primary witness. Selby returned for a final book, The D.A. Breaks an Egg.

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.

Doug Selby appeared in the following books:[2][3]

  • The D.A. Calls it Murder (1937)
  • The D.A. Holds a Candle (1938)
  • The D.A. Draws a Circle (1939) "This sample of Doug Selby's work is really distinguished, as is the creation of the unscrupulous but smooth lawyer-villain A. B. Carr. The hostile byplay with the police chief is also well done."[4]
  • 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)
  • The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949) "There are some pretty bits of skulduggery, shrewd guessing, and also improbability in this well-told item in the D.A. series."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ IMDB
  2. ^ Hubin, Allen J. (1984) Crime Fiction, 1749-1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography, New York and London: Garland Publishing, ISBN 0-8240-9219-8
  3. ^ Mundell, E.H. (1968) Erle Stanley Gardner: A Checklist, Kent State University Press, ISBN 0-87338-034-7
  4. ^ a b Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8