A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece. Morrow, hardcover, 1936. Pocket #277, paperback, 1944. Reprinted many times since. TV Adaptation: Perry Mason, 28 September 1957 (Season 1 Episode 2), with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason.

   Perry Mason is approached by a “peculiar” client – Edna Hammer. who seeks help for her uncle, Peter Kent. Kent has a bad habit of sleepwalking. and when he does, he heads for (he carving knives and curls up in bed with one. Edna is afraid Uncle Peter will kill someone, and she wants Mason to prevent this.

   Kent has other troubles: a wife who instituted divorce proceedings on account of the sleepwalking but now wishes to reconcile; a fiancee whom he wishes to marry but can’t unless the divorce goes through: a complicated business arrangement with a “cracked-brained inventor”; a hypochondriac half brother; and a woman tailing him in a green Packard roadster. Mason spends a night at the Kent home, and by the next morning there is a bloodstained knife under Peter Kent’s pillow, a corpse in the guest room, and a client in very hot water.

   The writing in this early novel is taut and lean — reflective of Gardner’s hard-boiled work for such pulp magazines as Black Mask. The dialogue is terse and packs a good impact. and there are none of the long-winded conversations and introspections that characterize the later Perry Masons. A first-rate example of Gardner’s work in the Thirties and early Forties.

   Some other notable titles in the series are The Case of the Black-Eyed Blond (l944), The Case of the Lazy Lover (1947), The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (1953), and The Case of1he Daring Decoy (1957). After the late Fifties, the novels seem to lose something, possibly as a result of Gardner’s work on the Perry Mason TV series. Mason is less flamboyant. and the plots are not as intricate or well tied off as in the earlier novels.

   Gardner created other series characters, writing under both his own name and the pseudonym A. A. Fair. The best of these under the Gardner name arc small-1own prosecutor Doug Selhy (The D.A. Calls It Murder, 1937; The D.A. Cooks a Goose, 1942). whose role as a hero is a reverse of Hamilton Burger’s; and Gramps Wiggins (The Case of the Turning Tide, 1941; The Case of he Smoking Chimney, 1943), an iconoclastic old prospector whose experiences reflect Gardner’s childhood travels with his mining-engineer father.

   In addition to his novels, Gardner wrote hundreds of mystery and western stories under various names for such magazines as Argosy, Black Mask, SunsetWest, and Outdoor Stories.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.