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. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Proof is in the Photos

           A dozen years ago now, I wrote the following passage for my biography of Craig Rice:

Despite the lack of new work, Craig continued to promote herself and her work. She was her own best publicity machine when a fan from Colombia, South America, sent her a twelve-foot boa constrictor. Rice quickly named the snake Malone and posed with it for pictures and gave the reptile to a local animal shop. Shortly after that, the boa gave birth to 72 baby boas, setting a scientific record. Again Rice posed with the children of Malone as they slithered across her desk, typewriter, and books. After the photo shoot, the animal keepers had to dismantle the typewriter to return all of the young snakes back to the pet store.

 I was surprised at the time that a few fans questioned the story. Rice had often told wild tales about her exploits -- couldn't this have been another example of that? I was surprised by the questions. The story had been reported to me as fact, and I had taken it that way. 
Fast forward to 2013. Lo and behold, I find a photo that shows Craig, the typewriter and the boa with all of its wriggling progeny. It's not for the weak hearted, for sure.