15 Best Erle Stanley Gardner Books For Fans Of Crime Thrillers

Discover the best Erle Stanley Gardner books in our guide and add them to your reading list to enjoy the thrilling storylines and adventures.

Writing a good crime thriller novel is not easy. The most well-known crime thriller authors usually use a system to create an engaging plot and tell a mysterious story that keeps readers guessing to the very last toy. Unfortunately, few writers have achieved this, one of the most famous being Erle Stanley Gardner. Born in 1889, Earl Stanley Gardner was a trial lawyer who tapped into his legal experience in writing his books. Because legal work was a little tedious, he started writing pulp fiction for magazines, and in 1921 he published his first short story. Many of these early works featured characters he created, such as the criminal Lester Leith and the lawyer Ken Corning.

Soon Gardner took on a pen name, A. A. Fair, and began publishing novels about a detective firm called Cool and Lam. These works started earning him a reputation, but it wasn’t until he began working on the Perry Mason books that he solidified his place among the best crime thriller authors of all time. Perry Mason became a recurring character in several movies of the 1930s, followed by a radio program. Then, in 1937, Gardner added to his list of works by starting the Doug Selby series, which ended up with nine books.

Still, it was the investigative lawyer that made Gardner a household name. Then, in 1957, Perry Mason took to the small screen as a CBS courtroom drama which made him a household name. When Gardner died of cancer in 1970, he was the best-selling American writer of the 20th century. Even though he was a highly prolific writer, Gardner was a poor typist. In many of his books, he dictated to someone else to type. He wrote under many pennames, including Charles M. Green, J. Kenny, Probert Parr, Kyle Corning, and Les Tilray.

1. The Case of the Velvet Claws

The first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, was published in 1933. In the first fifteen years of publication, it sold 28 million copies, which was quite a feat for the early 1900s. This book introduces California lawyer Perry Mason who takes on the case of Eva Belter, a woman described as “all velvet and claws.” The case has all the makings of a great crime thriller, complete with a potential affair, attempted robbery, murder, and a forged will. The complicated story showed that Erle Stanley Gardner had what it takes to create riveting thriller novels. It also became a movie in 1936.

“I told you just what she was—all velvet and claws!”

The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason Series Book 1)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 141 Pages - 09/27/2011 (Publication Date) - Della Street Press (Publisher)

2. The Case of the Sulky Girl

The first Perry Mason book was so popular that Gardner brought the lawyer back in this second tale. The Case of the Sulky Girl talks about Frances Celane, a young woman who is forced to never marry to keep the fortune given to her by her late father. Celane hires Mason to find a way around the clause in the will so she can find happiness, yet he finds himself amid a family murder drama. This book was published originally in 1933.

“The girl walked past the secretary who held the door open, and surveyed the law office with eyes that showed just a trace of panic.”

The Case of the Sulky Girl: A Perry Mason Mystery #2 (Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 235 Pages - 08/07/2015 (Publication Date) - Ankerwycke (Publisher)

3. The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe

Book 13 in the Perry Mason series is The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe, which the author published in 1938. This story takes on a wealthy aunt who is caught shoplifting. Her niece, Virginia Trent, seeks out Perry Mason to help her, not because she believes her aunt to be innocent, but because some diamonds that her aunt had been watching for a friend have gone missing. When a gem dealer comes up murdered, the case gets complicated and requires the expertise of a great lawyer.

“I try to look at life and death from a broad-minded viewpoint. If you’re going to have births, you must have deaths. Life is a stream; death is a part of the scheme of things, and it’s a necessary part. If babies kept being born, and no one died, the world would become completely overcrowded. If babies weren’t born and no one died, it would be a pretty sorry, disillusioned world with no youth and gaiety, no romance, no honeymoons, and no children’s laughter.”

The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe: A Perry Mason Mystery (The Perry Mason Mysteries; American Mystery Classics)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 285 Pages - 04/19/2022 (Publication Date) - American Mystery Classics (Publisher)

4. The Case of the Curious Bride

A con man named Greg Moxley marries Rhoda Lorton, takes her money, ad apparently dies. After the window marries a millionaire, her first husband shows up again. He wants to blackmail his bride into taking her new husband’s money. To get out of this pickle, Rhoda hires Mason. The Case of the Curious Bride was book five in the series and was published in 1934. It became a movie in 1935.

“Perry Mason’s hand dropped to her shoulder, patted it reassuringly. It was the impersonal gesture of the protective male.” 

The Case of the Curious Bride: A Perry Mason Mystery #5 (Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 300 Pages - 08/07/2015 (Publication Date) - Ankerwycke (Publisher)

5. The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat

When Peter Baxter dies, his family discovers he has created a new will that leaves everything to his caretaker, leaving them wondering if the will was valid. The caretaker, facing the outrage of the family, hires Perry Mason. Yet The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat becomes complicated when the caretaker is not entirely truthful with the lawyer. The title comes from the fact that the family tries to evict the caretaker from home Baxter willed to him because the will doesn’t include his cat, to which he is very attached. While this is one of the more complicated plots among the Perry Mason books, it is still an excellent choice if you want to see the true genius of Gardner.

“A man only has a lease on life. All that really counts is a man’s ability to live, to get the most out of it as he goes through it. I get a kick out of playing a no-limit game.”

The Case of the Caretaker's Cat (Vintage Pocket Books, #138)
  • Gautier, Théophile (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 242 Pages - 12/03/2019 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

6. The Case of the Golddigger’s Purse

In The Case of the Golddigger’s Purse, which Gardner published in 1945, a beautiful woman named Sally Madison tries to get money from a wealthy man by offering him a cure for a sick exotic fish. Sadly for her, the fish disappears, and the man shows up dead. She turns to Mason to try to figure out the cause of all of these misfortunes. This is book 26 in Garder’s comprehensive collections.

“You can’t blame a client for lying, any more than you can blame a cat for catching canaries.”

7. The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece

In book 8 of the series, Peter Kent’s niece hires Perry Mason. She believes her uncle to be a sleepwalker, and she is concerned that he will injure someone. In addition, his wife and his business partner are out to get Kent and his assets. Yet Kent becomes a murder suspect when caught with a bloody knife. The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece relies heavily on the help of Paul Drake, Mason’s detective, to find the true source of the crimes. This book was published in 1938.

“[h]e’d be a hell of a detective if he didn’t know a busy executive kissed his secretary once in a while.” 

The Case of the Sleep-Walkers Niece (A Perry Mason Mystery) #50308
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • 11/26/1965 (Publication Date) - Pocket Books (Publisher)

8. The Case of the Gilded Lily

The Case of the Gilded Lily is book 50 in the Perry Mason saga, originally published in 1956. It tells of a happily married man, Stewart G. Bedford, who is caught up in a blackmail scheme. Soon, Bedford needs Mason’s help when he gets caught up in a murder scheme. This book is famous for its plot twist at the end.

“Stewart G. Bedford entered his private office, hung up his hat, walked across to the huge walnut desk which had been a birthday present from his wife a year ago, and eased himself into the swivel chair.” 

The Case of the Gilded Lily (The Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 205 Pages - 06/16/2020 (Publication Date) - MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (Publisher)

9. The Case of the Baited Hook

The Case of the Baited Hook, Perry Mason book 16, was originally published in 1940, and it asks, “Who was that masked woman?” which is a question that is quintessential to the detective and thriller genre. Mason is asked to represent a woman who keeps her identity hidden in this story. Unfortunately, he is paid excessively, so he takes the case. Soon, the bodies start piling up, and Mason is still unaware of who he is working for. This is one of the few novels in the series that does not go to the courtroom, but it clearly shows that Gardner knew how to write a thriller.

“The best fighters don’t worry about what the other man may do. And if they keep things moving fast enough, the other man is too busy to do much thinking.” 

The Case of the Baited Hook: A Perry Mason Mystery
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 316 Pages - 06/02/2020 (Publication Date) - American Mystery Classics (Publisher)

10. The Case of the Lucky Legs

The Case of the Lucky Legs takes on the case involving the murder of Frank Patton, a man known best for running contests for beautiful legs. Through the contest, he swindles many women into thinking they are heading to Hollywood to be the next star. When the con man dies, Mason must figure out who did it. This book was number three in the series and was published in

“You open that door without a search warrant,” he said, “and I’ll break your Jaw.” 

The Case of the Lucky Legs
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • 11/27/2022 (Publication Date) - The World Publishing Company (Publisher)

11. The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister

First published in 1953, this is book 42 of the series. The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister finds Mason hired to protect the Bain family, who is suffering a case of blackmail. This book captures the courtroom dramatics that Mason is famous for, and he can bring to light questions that put the prosecution on edge. One twist in this story is that the client thinks she is smarter than the famous lawyer, which puts the entire team on edge.

“The damnedest things happen to us! I feel like bawling.”

The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (The Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 212 Pages - 06/16/2020 (Publication Date) - MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (Publisher)

12. The Amazing Adventures of Lester Leith

Though Gardner is most famous for his Perry Mason books, these are not the only books of his worth reading. The Amazing Adventures of Lester Leith is a collection of short stories about a man, Lester, who steals from other crooks. In each tale, he manages to outwit the police, even with an undercover officer as his valet. This collection was first published in 1940.

Erle Stanley Gardner's The amazing adventures of Lester Leith
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 377 Pages - 11/26/1980 (Publication Date) - J. Curley & Associates (Publisher)

13. The Case of the Substitute Face

Book 12 of the Perry Mason series, The Case of the Substitute Face, hit bookshelves in 1938. It starts with Perry Mason and his secretary, Della Street, on a leisurely cruise. A fellow passenger approaches the lawyer to get help from her husband, who seems unwell. Soon he is seen jumping off the ship’s side, yet the apparent suicide is anything but. This quickly opens a murder case full of surprising twists and turns like most of Mason’s books.

“Drake said, “As far as that’s concerned, I’m not too happy about going through with these amateur theatricals. You’re certain we’re not going to wind up in jail?” “Reasonably certain,” Mason replied.”

The case of the substitute face
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 4 Pages - 11/27/2022 (Publication Date) - W. Morrow and company (Publisher)

14. The Case of the Lazy Lover

Published in 1947, The Case of the Lazy Lover is book 30 in the Perry Mason series. This book opens with Perry Mason getting two checks in the mail. One is good, and one is a forgery. It takes many chapters before the reader is told who the client is. Most characters habitually lie, making this a story full of twists and turns.

“Could I look at the car?” Mason asked. “Got anything for me to look at?” 

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The Case of the Lazy Lover (The Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 218 Pages - 06/16/2020 (Publication Date) - MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (Publisher)

15. The Case of the Terrified Typist

The last book on the list is The Case of the Terrified Typist, which he published in 1956 and was book 49 in the series. In this, he hires a temporary typist, only to have her flee in a panic and leave behind diamonds in a wad of chewing gum. The gem-importing company down the hall from Mason’s office is part of a smuggling scheme, and the owner is accused of murder. This brings Mason on the scene, and the book has a twist at the end that surprises even the most dedicated Gardner fan.

“Suppose you slip down to the powder room, Della, and see if perhaps our demon typist has a little flask in her purse and is now engaged in chewing on a clove.”
“Also,” Della Street said. “I’ll take a whiff to see if I smell marijuana smoke.” 

The Case of the Terrified Typist (The Perry Mason Mysteries)
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 190 Pages - 06/16/2020 (Publication Date) - MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (Publisher)

FAQs About The Best Erle Stanley Gardner Books

Did Erle Stanley Gardner ever appear on Perry Mason?

Erle Stanely Gardner appeared in just one episode of the Perry Mason television series. He was in The Case of the Final Fade-Out and played Judge Number Two.

How many books are in the Perry Mason series?

There are 85 standalone novels and one collection of short stories in the Perry Mason series. Gardner started writing these in 1933, The Case of the Velvet Claws and wrote the last one, The Case of the Postponed Murder, in 1973.

How many books did Erle Stanley Gardner write?

In total, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote 146 books. He was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling author in the world, and he was averaging 26,000 copies of his novels published daily when he was most popular.

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best Agatha Christie books!

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