ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Velvet Claws. Perry Mason #1. William Morrow & Co., hardcover, 1933. Pocket #73, paperback, 1941. Ballantine, paperback; 1st printing, August 1985. Many other reprint editions, both hardcover and paperback. Film: First National, 1936 (with William Warren as Perry Mason and Claire Dodd as Della Street). TV series: Perry Mason “The Case of the Velvet Claws,” 21 March 1963 (Season 6, Episode 22).

   I’ve never taken a count, but at a rough guess Id say I’ve read well over half of the Perry Mason novels. Unfortunately I’ve never made a point of reading them in order. If I had I’d feel a lot more comfortable in talking about Perry Mason as he was in 1933 versus Perry Mason as he was after the TV series came along in 1957.

   But here are some of the things I did notice in this one that I can pass along to you. Perry Mason was a man who prided himself on standing behind his client, no matter how he (or she, in the case) has lied to him. He was also a man with his fists, a technique on a case that he abandoned fairly quickly.

    Della Street and Paul Drake were with him from the beginning. Lt. Tragg and Hamilton Burger came along later. We are told that Della is 27, that she is devoted to her boss, down to warning Perry about her misgivings about his latest client, an attractive woman (velvet) who will do anything to get what she wants (claws).

   Della also has doubts about Perry in this one, when it looks as though Perry has thrown his client to the wolves. It is true that she has confessed to killing her husband, but it is (not surprisingly) part of Perry’s plan. But how can Perry get his client off after she’s confessed? That is a good trick, and it’s nicely done. I think it’s part of the reason the Perry Mason stories were so popular, right from the start.

   There are no courtroom scenes in this one, which came as a surprise to me, but the cluing that helps identify the killer is there, in full “play fair” mode, and I think that also helped make a success of this book. Perry also kisses Della at the end of this one. I don’t think this happened too many times. Erle Stanley Gardner must have realized that an overt romance between the two would take away from the stories he wanted to tell, and tell them for a long time after this one he most certainly did.