SUSAN KANDEL – I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason. Cece Caruso #1. Morrow, hardcover, 2004. Avon, paperback, 2005.

   First thought: What a great title! Second thought: What a great title!!

   Cece Caruso, an LA-based biographer, is working on a book about Erle Stanley Gardner. She has read all of his books, even the dull D.A. ones, watched all of the Perry Mason TV shows, and even read many of his, believe it or not, pulp stories from the 20s and 30s. (Speed Dash from Top Notch is one of her favorite characters.)

   From a non-cosy reader’s point of view, this is really heartening stuff. Which makes me reluctant to have to tell you that at least 60% of the book is filled with the kinds of things cosies are filled with. To wit: a daughter whose marriage is falling apart; a goofy female friend who is always there for her; an affinity for vintage clothes (and where better than Hollywood to indulge in such a passion?); and of course there is a police detective with whom she has had an on and off affair with.

   The good news is that Cece Caruso’s way of telling a story is witty and (mostly) intelligent. On page 59 she is staying overnight in a motel in Venture, the small town in California where Erle Stanley Gardner first plied his trade as a fledgling lawyer:

   I sank back down to the floor, crawled the rest of the way to the minibar and opened it. God help me, it was filled with healthy snacks: protein bars, electrolyte-enhanced H2O, gorp sorts of things, the stuff you put in backpacks when you’re hiking and swear never to touch once your back within spitting range of a 7-Eleven. […] I crawled back to bed, slid between the sheets, and fell asleep. I dreamed I married Perry Mason.

   Why is she in Ventura? Research, of course. A letter in Gardner’s files relating to his Court of Last Resort project – aimed at freeing prisoners who are innocent of committing the crime they have been convicted of, in this case murder – was never followed up on, in spite of Gardner’s initial interest in the case. The man is still in prison, and Cece wants to learn more.

   The case, as it turns out, is as complicated as one of Gardner’s own, dealing with oil properties and who owned them and when. All to the good, of course, except it is far to easy to identify the killer and who the person is who Cece is … Well, read the book for yourself, if I’ve at all tempted you. I had a good time with it, and you may too.

      The Cece Caruso series —

1. I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason (2004)
2. Not a Girl Detective (2005)  [Nancy Drew]
3. Shamus in the Green Room (2006)  [Dashiell Hammett]
4. Christietown (2007)
5. Dial H for Hitchcock (2009)