Sun 31 Oct 2010
ERLE STANLEY GARDNER —
The Case of the Amorous Aunt. Morrow, hardcover, 1963. Reprint paperback: 1st Pocket printing, June 1965. (All four titles have been reprinted many times.)
A young woman and her opportunistic boy friend ask Perry Mason to help get the woman’s aunt out of the clutches of a handsome stranger who may be a professional killer of women.
But it’s the Bluebeard who turns up dead, in a bordertown motel unit next door to the aunt, so that Mason winds up having to try a murder case in a country where he’s an alien and with a client whose story simply doesn’t square with the facts.
The long meaty courtroom scenes are distinguished by Mason’s demolition job on a tricky district attorney and a shifty prosecution witness, with help from a young local lawyer who might have become the Mason of the next generation if Gardner had written a new series around him.
But, like so many other Mason novels of the Sixties, this one is pockmarked with dozens of inconsistencies, incredibilities and careless oversights in plotting, although there is one neatly planted clue amid the debris.
The Case of the Daring Divorcee. Morrow, hardcover, 1964. Reprint paperback: 1st Pocket printing, 1965.
The pace is as vigorous as usual in this adventure and the plot elements as exciting, including a mysterious woman who flees Mason’s office leaving behind a handbag containing a twice-fired gun.
Add a will contest, a gun-switching ploy, some elaborate schemes to discredit eyewitnesses, and a full measure of familial and financial flimflams, and the basis exists for a spectacular display of Masonry.
Unfortunately it never comes. Even the courtroom sequences this time around the track are wretchedly constructed, with dear old Hamilton Burger introducing totally irrelevant evidence just so that certain story elements can be furthered, and with a rabbit-out-of-chapeau Mason solution that rests on hopelessly silly reasoning and explains nothing.
The Case of the Phantom Fortune. Morrow, hardcover, 1964. Reprint paperback: 1st Pocket printing, November 1965.
This time the opening scenes are rather sluggish, and so inconsistent with later developments that they seem to be part of a different book.
The fireworks start to go off when Mason plays fast and loose with the penal law in trying to protect his client’s wife from a blackmailer, but soon finds his client charged with the extortionist’s murder, and himself suspected of attempting to hang a felony rap on an innocent man.
Although the pace and intellectual excitement never let up once the story proper gets under way, and the solution packs a beautiful wallop, the usual quota of holes in the plot remain unplugged, and — a fault rare in Gardner — too many characters speak in impossibly textbookish sentences.
The Case of the Horrified Heirs. Morrow, hardcover, 1964. Reprint paperback: 1st Pocket printing, February 1966.
The best part of this one comes early, in a brilliant courtroom sequence where Mason proves that his client, the former secretary of another attorney, was framed on a narcotics charge.
Trying to learn who framed the girl and why, Mason discovers a connection with a scheme to forge two contradictory wills, which as usual leads to a murder trial, although this one winds up with a twist unique in the Mason canon.
Wonderful ingredients, wretched construction, unfair solution — in short, standard late-model Gardner with all the strengths and all the flaws.