The Case of the Borrowed Brunette borrows from Sherlock Holmes. The case begins with an advertisement for a brunette of a certain height, weight, age, and measurements to apply for a position. In using such a ploy, Gardner is recycling Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League,” which looked for a red-headed man to fill a position. While Gardner often claimed not to know much of the genre in which he wrote, works such as this, as well as comments made to editors and friends, reveal that he was well versed in mysteries both old and new.
In this case, Helen Reedley is trying to deceive private investigators about her behavior. By hiring a woman who looks like her, Reedley is free to do as she pleases somewhere else. When the man who placed the ad for Reedley is murdered in Reedley’s apartment, the borrowed brunette and her chaperone are accused of murder. Mason agrees to represent them both, although he struggles more with the chaperone’s defense as the woman continues to change her story of what happened at the time of the murder. The book has an ending that is far more satisfying than other books of the period. The circumstantial evidence is read a different way by Mason, and the solution is fair to the reader.
Today would have been Gardner's 123rd birthday. The work on the biography continues, and I hope to have it completed by fall.