Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, February 28, 2014


The Land of Shorter Shadows by Erle Stanley Gardner (1948)

Mystery author Erle Stanley Gardner  had a long love affair with the outdoors, especially the more desolate places.  On a whim, he would pack up his office and his secretaries and roam the desert areas of the west.  He also loved to explore Baja California, although those trips required a bit more planning.

The Land of Shorter Shadows was the first of more than a dozen travel books Gardner wrote -- most, such as this one, about his travels in Baja California.  In the late Forties, Baja was mostly an undeveloped place.  Many of the roads were in ill repair; storms had rendered them almost impassable; many were narrow, providing mere inches of clearance between a solid rock wall and a deep cliff.  Gardner wanted to drive the length of the peninsula, so he gathered a few friends, his long-time secretary, and another secretary, and off he went, stopping at small towns along the way to remain in contact with publishers and business associates.

One of Gardner's main purposes in this book seems to be the debunking of the stereotypical Mexican.  The people he meets are honest, kind, generous, intelligent, and ambitious.  Their hospitality leaves little to be desired.  The rough beauty of the country translates well.

Unlike his works of fiction, there are things unresolved.  One of the party was a herpetologist who hoped to collect a number of samples on the trip; the trip was basically a dud for that purpose and most of the (few) specimens collected were lizards that Gardner had run over.  Another member of the party was injured while negotiating a narrow cliff road.  After trying to get him to medical help, we learn nothing else about him until the last chapter of the book -- he spent several days in a Mexican hospital then decided to fly home, where he collapsed and almost died; none of the others explorers were aware of his problems.

The biggest value of the book is its insights into Gardner himself.  He appreciates food; just about every meal recorded in the book was wonderful, and Gardner never met a pat of butter that he did not like.  Gardner comes across as a divided character -- ultra-liberal, very conservative, and overly sentimental.  He had a tendency to over-generalize and to give animals human values.  Understandably, he has a high opinion of himself.

An interesting book, but not everyone's cup of tea.  Also pretty much the same as many of his later travel books.

Makes the cynic in me wonder if these books were written to underwrite Gardner's jaunts for tax purposes.


  1. I've read dozens of Erle Stanley Gardner books, but not this one. ESG was a craftsman. I'll be on the lookout for THE LAND OF SHORTER SHADOWS.

  2. I might need to read this just for the food descriptions. I do a lot of freelance food writing, so it would be neat to get a taste of Gardner's style in that area.