ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Baited Hook. Perry Mason #16. William Morrow & Co., hardcover, 1940. Reprint editions include Pocket #414, paperback, 1947; Ballantine, paperback, February 1986.

   The hook that reels Perry Mason into this case is a two thousand dollar retainer fee, free and clear and one third of a one-thousand dollar bill, the remaining portion to be handed over if and when his client needs his services on behalf of a masked woman who accompanies the man into Mason’s office.

   Not only does Mason accept the ploy, but it also serves extremely well in grabbing the reader’s interest as well — as intended. I’m always a bit amazed at how complicated Gardner’s book were, delving as deeply into esoteric legal and financial matters as they did, such as (this time around) trust funds — always extremely susceptible to embezzlers and imposters alike — and sales of stock that depend on whether the buyer was actually alive or not at the time transfer.

   Once over the expository hump needed to get all of the ground rules squared away, Baited Hook settles comfortably into a standard Perry Mason tale, filled with legal chicanery and juggling evidence around on the ground, including some Mason creates on his own, much to the chagrin of his nemesis in this book, the stalwart Sgt. Holcomb of the Homicide Squad.

   There is also some banter between Mason and Paul Drake about Della Street’s legs but, alas, no big courtroom scene — unless you count a short hearing in which D.A. Hamilton Burger asks Mason to show cause why he shouldn’t be served a warrant for his arrest.

   Good stuff, in other words!