Thursday, July 17, 2014

Top Ten List for Perry Mason

In honor of Erle Stanley Gardner’s birthday today, I thought I’d do a top 10 list of my favorite Perry Mason novels. There are as many lists as there are folks reading the books, so you can take mine with a grain of salt, but I can say that I’ve read all 80 of the books and from that standpoint, I do feel qualified to make this list. (Well, that and 3 years writing a biography of him!) 

Most of these works came from a very creative period of 1938-1945 for Gardner, when many of his best works appeared in all of his series.

If there’s sufficient interest, perhaps I can do a top 5 of the Cool/Lam books later. Since there are only 29, I’d feel silly doing a top 10.

1)      TCOT Lame Canary – this was supposed to be the last of the Perry Mason books. Gardner was tired of not being published in the slicks and he was ready to try other characters. The Saturday Evening Post bought the rights to this story after Gardner had spent significant time in revising (and it shows.)

2)      TCOT Careless Kitten  - Gardner takes an opportunity to lament the loss of individual rights. Tragg and Burger try to attack Mason by arresting Della for harboring the client’s long-lost uncle. Mason feels like the cards are stacked against the innocent victim in contemporary society. “It’s high time for citizens to wake up to the fact that it isn’t a question of whether a man is guilty or innocent, but whether his guilt or innocence can be proved under a procedure which leaves in the citizen the legal rights to which he is entitled under a constitutional government” [italics are Gardner’s].  This legal ideal would be revisited in the Court of Last Resort and in many of the later Mason books. This dedication to individual rights, first outlined in his popular literature, would later lead Gardner back to the courtroom to help innocent citizens get a fair break from the American justice system.

3)      TCOT Drowsy Mosquito – In this book, Gardner outlines his own personal philosophy. Living outdoors is needed to make you healthy. Being in touch with nature is the best cure. It’s shown when the client actually lives outside of his house, enjoying a tent more than a bedroom. Of course, the client is killed, so maybe it’s not all that healthy?  It also is one of the few times that Perry and Della are in immediate danger. Since they appear in about 40 books, you know that nothing happens to them, but it’s interesting to see how Gardner handles it.

4)      TCOT Borrowed Brunette – one of the first of the titillating titles. There would be many to follow but this is one of the first. It’s also an interesting premise which uses a variation of the Conan Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League” by advertising for a particular type of woman. Gardner liked to say that he didn’t read within the genre, but this story (and others) show that he did.

5)      TCOT Drowning Duck – Gardner introduced a character very much like himself in this book, a rugged outdoorsman who lived away from society. It’s an interesting look at how he perceived himself. Gardner also used some current science from that era for the catchy title. He spoke with mystery author Sally Wright’s father to get the details straight.

6)      TCOT Buried Clock Gardner makes his only reference to World War II where one of the main characters is recuperating from an arm injury received during combat. He goes to a cabin in the woods in order to convalesce after his wartime service and hears the ticking of a clock outside. He finds the clock and noticed that the clock is not set to the current time

7)      TCOT Empty Tin - Mason makes a few good legal observations, based on Gardner’s early legal career. Mason tells Lieutenant Tragg that a suspect heard two shots instead of one. When the suspect questions Mason about this, Mason points out that the police do not want to uncover a single witness who contradicts all other witnesses.  According to Alva Johnston, Gardner had used this strategy in the 1920s when he’d been questioned in Ventura after Gardner had gotten a mobster there acquitted of murder. Gardner used the acquaintance to research his own pulp stories and learned a great deal about mob activity in Ventura. When the police picked up Gardner to question him about some of what he had witnessed during his research, Gardner began by avoiding answering the questions. However, he soon became overly helpful, telling wild stories filled with details that contradicted other witnesses and including his own guesses about the case as part of his testimony. Obviously, no prosecutor would want to put such a witness before a jury, and Gardner was released and not bothered.

8)      TCOT Velvet Claws – The first book in series. It’s fascinating to see how well Gardner creates these characters who don’t change much over the course of 40 years and 80 books. It’s a bit more hard-boiled than most and doesn’t have the courtroom scene at the end of the book, but it’s still a pageturner.

9)      TCOT Crooked Candle - reintroduces Gardner’s use of physical evidence as clues. In this and many subsequent Mason works, the case will revolve around one or two pieces of forensic evidence that the police will interpret one way, while Mason corrects their interpretation by the end of the book. These clues would become a mainstay of Gardner’s later works as he began his work with the Court of Last Resort and saw the difficulties in using circumstantial evidence to convict a man of murder.

10)  TCOT Half-wakened Wife – starts to see the merging of Perry and Gardner, particularly with a description of Mason pacing the carpet, trying to come up with a plan of action. Jean Bethell shared Gardner plotting process, which was quite similar.  Gardner would sit in a rocking chair, moving back and forth until he had worked his way across the carpet. He would then pick up the chair, move it back, and then start again. Mason’s relentless pacing ties character and creator even more closely.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Greener Pastures

All Grass Isn’t Green was the final Cool/Lam case. Gardner got the Advanced Review Copies just days before his death. While the book was not up to Gardner’s best, his perseverance is impressive given that he was dying of a particularly painful form of cancer while writing. 

Mr. Calhoun wants the detectives to find Colburn Hale, a writer who has disappeared along with Calhoun’s girlfriend, Nanncie. Lam determines Calhoun’s identity and quickly gets a line on the writer and ladyfriend in Mexico. Gardner interposes here to talk about the Mexican culture and people, more like his travel books than a fast-paced mystery. He again interjects into the story to explain about marijuana when it appears that Lam has stumbled across a smuggling ring.

The series does not have any closure, despite the fact that Gardner knew of his impending death. Cool and Lam remained just as they had been for 29 tales, ready for work and looking for clients with cash. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Case of the Postponed Novel

In the final Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Postponed Murder,  Morrow provided no notes as to the provenance of the novel; however, a few key phrases make the reader suspect the manuscript was written some 10-30 years prior to its publication. Most suggestions point to a date of somewhere during the Perry Mason television show, but there are no notes in the archives to confirm this. 

Sylvia Farr comes to Mason’s office, looking for her sister, Mae. Mae had been living in the city and writing home on a regular basis until recently. Sylvia wants to find the sister and see if she is alive and well. Mason points Farr to Paul Drake’s office.
In the meantime, Mason learns that Farr has been accused of forging a check by a rebuffed admirer, Penn Wentworth. Farr goes to Wentworth’s boat, they struggle for the gun and a bullet kills Wentworth. However, when Farr brings Mason back to the marina, the boat is out to sea. A somewhat impossible crime occurs when Mason tries to figure out how a boat with only the victim’s body on it could have launched itself.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Case of the Final Mason books

Following the publication of The Case of the Irate Witness and Other Stories, Gardner’s estate released two posthumous Perry Mason novels in 1972 and 1973. The first of these two novels was The Case of the Fenced-in Woman

While the book was promoted as a new Perry Mason novel, the book was in fact over a decade old. The book was originally titled The Case of the Fenced-Off Women and had been written in 1960. Thayer Hobson had rejected the book at that time for having too improbable a plot. Gardner shared correspondence with Helen King, trying to change her mind, but the decision stood until all of the principals had passed away. The book, while a completed draft, had not gone through the rigorous editing process Helen King provided. At times, it is obvious that no one edited the book to reflect the intervening decade. Word choices and situations provide clues to the actual age of the book. The three Walter
sisters remained intensely protective of the integrity of the Mason series, feeling that Gardner knew best about books and sales.
In this book, Morley Eden visits Mason to discuss a difficulty with his property. He had purchased two lots from Loring Carson, who is in the midst of a messy divorce. Carson assures Eden that he has the deed to both properties, but his assurances are hollow. In his haste to get a divorce, Carson had the wrong woman followed. This wrong woman was having an affair, making Carson feel certain that his wife would settle. The mistake costs him the deed to one of the properties.

To get back at the man who has sided with her husband, Mrs. Carson runs barbed wire through Eden’s new home along the property line, providing Eden with only half the house. During a press conference on the house with Eden and Mason, the reporters find the dead body of Loring Carson. Mason has to find a killer while Eden falls in love with his new neighbor. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sulky Gets You Nowhere

The Case of the Sulky Girl, Gardner’s second book, contains Perry Mason’s first courtroom scenes. Fran Celane, the sulky girl of the title, comes to Mason’s office, asking for help with a will. Her father left his money in a trust for her, which she can receive if she remains unmarried at age 25. If she marries before 25, the distribution of the estate is left to the discretion of the trustee, except if the trustee dies before Fran’s 25th birthday. This sets up the perfect situation for murder, and the reader is not surprised when Edward Norton, the tight-fisted trustee, is found dead in Chapter Five.

Overall, the book is one of the weaker of the period. While the will sets up an interesting situation for murder, Gardner grows pedantic on probate and trusts. It’s obvious that Gardner knew the subject well, but as with most books, all that the author knows should not appear on the pages. Even with these drawbacks, the book was named one of the two Haycraft-Queen cornerstones, the definitive library listing of mystery fiction, for Gardner’s Perry Mason series. The legal descriptions were so detailed that an estate lawyer later cited them during a trial in an Arizona courtroom.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Release, Excerpt & Giveaway!

New Release, Excerpt & Giveaway!
Murder Comes Ashore by Julie Anne Lindsey
Thank you so much for inviting me over today, Jeffrey. I’m excited to see the birth of my new book baby and share a teaser piece with you and your readers.
Giveaway: If the excerpt makes you smile, I hope you’ll consider leaving a comment. I’m giving away one copy each of Murder Comes Ashore and book one in the series, Murder by the Seaside. Two chance to win! I’ll keep an eye on comments today. Good luck! And I hope the excerpt makes you smile : )
“Look.” I smacked Sebastian’s arm.
Sebastian turned to look and I darted past him. His footfalls kept pace with mine, allowing me to maintain the lead when he could easily have passed me. I waded into the grasses, waving my arms overhead to keep the gulls at bay.
“Told you I could help.” In a moment of gloating, I lost sight of the evidence. A seagull honked and dove at me. I jumped back on instinct and fell into the sand. A wilted reed of grass rammed up my nose and I screamed. Sneezing bug eggs and cooties, I scrambled to my feet and chased the offending bird across the sand. Two more birds joined him in the air and attacked. Whatever they all wanted, it was flesh colored and I wanted it too.
Sebastian shoved two fingers in his lips and whistled. Fargas jogged toward me, a look of shock on his face. Yeah, yeah. How’d I get here? I pointed to the sky. “They’ve got something.”
The birds circled in the air, stretching the thing in their beaks and flapping with vigor.
“Should I shoot them?” Fargas called to Sebastian.
A mob of birders appeared from the trees like magic. “No!”
“What the hell?” Sebastian frowned.
“They were probably here all night looking for owls or something.” I rolled my eyes.
Fargas unholstered his side arm and the birders started closing in, cell phones at arm’s length, digitally capturing the chaos.
“Do not shoot that bird!” A wild scream broke out above the other voices. A woman in hip waders and a dirty shirt charged Fargas.
I tossed shells at the birds circling overhead. “I can’t hit them!” Frustration burst from my chest in a growl. “Stop!” I screamed at the birds.
Fargas toppled into the sand beside me, crushed beneath the rampaging woman. Her giant binoculars bounced off his forehead and he went limp.
“Aw, hell.” Sebastian groaned. He scooped a handful of rocks from the sand and pulled his arm back.
A shower of feathers burst above me and a bird fell from the sky. The others squawked complaints, but headed out to sea. I ran for the grounded bird and yanked the skin from his beak. He flapped his wings and waddled in a daze across the sand.
“You monster! You hit that bird with a rock! Murderer!” The woman climbed off Fargas and headed for Sebastian, who dropped his remaining rocks in favor of cuffs and badge. She raised her fists and Sebastian spun her around, cuffing her and reciting her rights.
I flipped the fleshy prize in my hands, struggling to make sense of what the birds had worked so hard to keep. I tugged and squeezed the thing, looking past the damage done from multiple bird beaks. Realization dawned. My tummy lurched.
“Ahh!” The scream that ripped loose from my chest was Oscar-worthy. I dropped the thing and ran in a tiny circle, unsure which way to go for bleach and a fast hand-removal surgery. I rubbed my palms over the seat of my pants until they hurt.
Sebastian finished reading Waders her rights.
A line of EMTs-turned-beachcombers surrounded Fargas. One checked his vitals. One followed the waddling bird and radioed the park ranger for assistance. We had two head injuries, six EMTs and no ambulance. I marched in big, knee-to-my-chest steps, trying not to think of the thing I would never forget. Ever. Ever. Ever.
I covered my eyes with one hand. The one without lifelong cooties. With the other hand, I pointed to the item saved from the seagulls. “The victim is not a woman!”

Murder Comes Ashore
Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.
Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.
When the body count rises and Patience's parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It's not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she's determined to clear her family's name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer's next victim.
Amazon       Barnes&Noble      

About Julie:
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.
Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.  
Learn About Julie at:

Monday, July 29, 2013

In the dog days of summer, I thought I'd post a few reviews of Gardner's works involving
animals. I'm starting with a feline book, Cats Prowl at Night. For the collectors, there is a MapBack version of this title available. 

In Cats Prowl at Night, Bertha is hired by Everett Belder to settle a claim against him and take a percentage of its worth for payment. The client has put everything in his wife’s name and has no assets to be forfeited in a lawsuit. He wants Bertha to act as a proxy to settle the claim for him.
In this case, Lam is said to be serving at the front, blocking any possibility of his last minute intervention in the case. Bertha again nearly manages to be arrested for breaking and entering; however, she manages to solve the case even though Sergeant Sellers must rescue her from the killers.
Despite the humor of situations involving Bertha, this is not one of the better cases for Cool and Lam. Too many of the plot elements are recycled from previous books. Harkening back to Double or Quits, two of the victims die from carbon monoxide poisoning. The case revolves around an estate, similar to those in both Bats Fly at Dusk and The D.A. Cooks a Goose.
Before publication Gardner’s agent, Eve Woodburn, asked for a rewrite of the book.

I have read Cats Prowl at Night very carefully. As you know, I’ve always been keen about Bertha and I felt the humor was something extra special in this book. I particularly liked the situation when Bertha gets in the lawsuit and I liked the cross fire between Bertha and Sellers.

Thayer Hobson called me up before I had finished the book and asked me how I liked it and I told him that as far as I had read I liked it very much. He said he didn’t and you’ve heard from him by this time as he is writing you today. After I had finished the book I talked with him again.

I found the ending, ie the explanation of the crime a bit confused. I read it twice yesterday and once today and it still doesn’t seem to be very clear cut. But outside of that, I really enjoyed the book.[i]

[i] Letter from Eve Woodburn to Erle Stanley Gardner, January 28, 1943. Erle Stanley Gardner collection. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas – Austin, Austin, Texas.