ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Haunted Husband. William Morrow, hardcover, 1941. Pocket #590, paperback, 1949. Reprinted by Pocket several times. Ballantine, paperback; 1st printing, August 1981. (A later printing from 1985 is shown to the right.)

   Gardner was at his prime when he wrote this one, there’s no doubt about it. His client is a young woman who rather foolishly decided to make her way from San Francisco to Hollywood by means of hitch-hiking, which admittedly was a lot more common as a way of transportation than it is now, but when the man who picks her up in Bakersfield starts making a pass at her, she struggles and an accident happens.

   Someone in another car dies, and when she’s found as the only one in her car, no one believes her story and she’s charged with manslaughter. No one but Perry Mason, that is, and when he learns that the car she was in really belonged to wealthy Hollywood producer, his dislike of unequal justice kicks in immediately.

   Mason also liked his cases to be both challenging and complicated, and believe me, this one is both. It also has some juicy courtroom scenes, which I’m always looking forward to whenever I pick up a Perry Mason novel, and I don’t believe I’m the only one, then or now.

   We also get some time spent with Perry, Della, Paul and even Lt. Tragg at dinner time, the latter still on the other side of the case, but still to able to overcome that and joke around a little. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe this happened in the Mason books all that often. Of course it doesn’t take very long for Tragg to stumble over evidence that implicates Perry, who’s already been skating on thin ice in the case for far too long. More than any other defense attorney ever would.

   I mentioned up above that this is a complicated case. You can double or triple that statement with no trouble at all. I’m not sure I unraveled it entirely, even after reading through Mason’s explanation. It seems to make sense, but I’m not sure. There simply were too many people doing too many unusual things, both before and after the fatal accident.

   The end result is a lot of fun to read, but I thought I’d better warn you about the ending.