ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Gilded Lily. William Morrow & Co., hardcover, September 1956. Cardinal C-337, paperback; 1st printing, April 1959. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft, including Pocket 35085, paperback; 6th printing, January 1968 (shown). Ballantine, paperback, 1985.

   This mid-career Gardner differs from most of the run in at least one significant way: Perry Mason does not show up until page 46. The stories most often begin with Perry and Della sitting in his office going through his mail and correspondence together until their next client is shown in sometimes with an appointment, sometimes not.

   In Gilded Lily we’re given a long look at the situation businessman Stewart Bedford finds himself in. A widower for twelve years, he is now married to a much younger wife, and very happily so. Life is good until a blackmailer demands $20,000 in cash. If not delivered, details of his wife’s previous life (insurance fraud) will be delivered to the scandal magazines.

   Going along with what’s asked of him, Bedford is taken by a good-looking blonde to a roadside motel to wait it out until the financial transaction is consummated. But given something in his drink, he wakes to find the blonde gone and the blackmailer shot to death in the adjoining cabin. With what is in all likelihood his gun.

   Well sir. At long last, this is certainly a good time to call Perry Mason in, and in the process of representing his client, the latter seems to skirt the letter of the law as closely as he ever has, and that’s something he does as a matter of everyday routine.

   It’s fingerprints rather than ballistics that’s at the core of this one, and if you can follow Mason as he juggles the evidence around as he does in this one, you’re a better person than I. I had no idea what he had in mind, but in the course of the trial, all is explained, with his one of his trickiest gambits ever working like a charm.

   This is one of Mason’s more complicated cases, and plain, unadorned writing style and all, I enjoyed every minute of it.