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.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Birthday / Traps Need Fresh Bait

Today marks Erle Stanley Gardner's birthday. He was born on July 17, 1889. I thought I'd blog about the only appearance of a birthday for any of Gardner's series characters. 

Traps Need Fresh Bait begins with a rare event in any of Gardner’s series, a character aging. The office surprises Lam with a birthday party in his honor. Barney Adams, an executive at an insurance company, interrupts the celebration. The company is concerned because advertisements have begun to appear in local newspapers, requesting witnesses who saw a particular automobile accident. Adams is concerned because the accident had clearly been caused by one party. The advertisements appear to want to subvert justice as only witnesses willing to testify that the innocent party was actually to blame for the accident are requested. Lam suspects something even more suspicious after he receives Adams’ business card.
Donald investigates and learns that the accident has already been settled with the insurance companies, leaving no possible lawsuit or reason for the advertisement. Donald tries to apply for the job as witness, but is rejected. He meets another applicant for the job of witness there. Lam is accused of murder because he is in the vicinity of a murder while tailing the woman. The plot device had been used before when characters lied to implicate Lam, but in this case, it just appears that Sellers has it in for Lam.
Gardner is especially cynical about women in this book, calling them “creatures of intrigue. They love to set obscure causes in motion to bring about results that will take place behind the scenes.”[i]

[i] Gardner, Erle Stanley (as A.A. Fair). Traps Need Fresh Bait. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1967. Page 104.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Case of the Waylaid Wolf

At age 70, Gardner was still able to keep a good pace. In 1960 alone, he produced three Perry Mason novels, all of which would rapidly become fodder for the television show.  These late novels show certain common traits such as a concentration on secretaries as suspects, marriages gone bad, a blurred line between Gardner’s own life and Perry’s along with a number of recycled plotlines. 

 The Case of the Waylaid Wolf is exactly what it sounds like. Arlene Ferris, a secretary at Lamont Rolling, Casting and Engineering Company, experiences car trouble after working late and agrees to accept a car ride home from Loring Lamont, the son of the company’s founder.  
After a few excuses and detours, the pair  ends up at a company-owned cabin, where Lamont says that he is to wait for a man to pick up some papers. Following a phone call, Lamont’s attentions turn brutal, and Ferris escapes in Lamont’s car. She calls on Perry Mason the next morning to determine her options. While she’s meeting with Mason, they learn that Lamont was killed out at the cabin.
The timeline and forensics details play a large part in this case. The time of death was determined in part by the contents of the victim’s stomach. Arlene Ferris claimed that a meal including scrambled eggs was prepared, but never eaten. The coroner puts the death at minutes after the meal was consumed.   
 The Newsweek piece gave details on Gardner’s creative processes for The Case of the Duplicate Daughter. Gardner had indicated that he felt a creative streak coming on. He’d avoided alcohol that evening, went to bed at 2 a.m. and woke at 6 a.m. to begin work on the book, dictating with two recorders in front of him. “All right, gal, hold onto your hat. Here it comes,” he had been reported to say. Gardner dictated in the voice of each character, indicating paragraph marks to the secretaries, but leaving all other punctuation to their knowledge of the rules of grammar. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bachelors Get Lonely

During the early 1960s, Gardner began to subtly change the Cool / Lam series. The duo took on cases that Bertha Cool felt would bring them respectability. Gardner had done this years before with Mason, when he tried to break into the slick magazines. Additionally, like the Perry Mason books before them, the Cool / Lam books began to lose something in terms of the plotting. Gardner was in his 70s by this point with pressures from the television show and writing multiple books per year. The plots became more predictable, frequently involved automobile accidents, often recycled and thin compared to the more robust multiple story line plots of the 1940s.

Bachelors Get Lonely embodies most of the later books' flaws. Montrose Carson is an example of the “big, substantial, solid businessmen” that Bertha has her eye on. Carson’s office experiences a series of losses in its business ventures. Lam lays a trap, pretending to be a wealthy businessman with a property to lease. Carson gives each member of his staff a unique dollar amount that the lease should go for. Lam easily determines the office leak when the price is just over one of the staff’s given amount. The path leads to Herbert Dowling, one of Carson’s competitors and to a series of women who work for and love the two men. After Dowling is murdered, the police implicate Lam because of the tracking device he’d installed on Dowling’s car.

Gardner uses the chance to discuss restless men in this book, appropriate to the title.
“It’s hard to describe a man like that, Donald. He’s emotionally restless. He’s—Well, I’ve always felt that we had a perfect companionship and that much of his present trouble is that he had been search for something to take the place of that companionship.”[i]

[i] Gardner, Erle Stanley (as A.A. Fair). Bachelors Get Lonely. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1961. Page 70. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Changing of the Guard

Early in the Perry Mason series, Gardner wrote of the LAPD as a corrupt organization who were not above wiretaps, coercion and torture. As the series progressed and he desired to make the books more palatable to his middle-class audience, Gardner changed Mason's police opponents. The buffoonish Sergeant Holcomb would be replaced by Lieutenant Tragg. It would be hard to think of the TV series having Holcomb, so the change was fortuitous. 

The Case of the Baited Hook would be Sergeant Holcomb’s last major appearance in the series. Mason leads him around by the nose. The lawyer takes the time to dictate to the switchboard operator, Gertie, while Holcomb waits. Holcomb nearly arrests Mason after the lawyer has already named the guilty man and had him detained by the police. In order to stop Holcomb from pursuing the arrest, Mason plants a damaging account of the sergeant’s incompetence in the local newspaper. Struggling to deal with the publicity, Holcomb drops his case against Mason.
 The next book, The Case of the Silent Partner, introduces Lieutenant Tragg to the series. Holcomb’s behavior had become repetitive in the last few cases, and Gardner took the opportunity to replace the policeman with a brighter and more vivid opponent. While never mentioned outright, Della alludes to an incident where Mason got Holcomb transferred. Gardner would later say that Tragg represented the improved, less corrupt LAPD.

Tragg follows Mason’s every step and gives the lawyer more chances to defend his actions than did Holcomb. For the first few chapters of the book, the policeman and the lawyer work side-by-side to investigate the poisoning of a hostess. Once Mason has a client, the two become adversaries, and the case quickly becomes a competition as to who can properly interpret clues and solve the crime.