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.