ERLE STANLEY GARDNER – The Case of the Grinning Gorilla. Perry Mason #40. William Morrow, hardcover, 1952. Pocket, paperback, 1956; many reprint editions. Ballantine, paperback, 1982. TV Episode: 29 April 1965 (Season 8, Episode 28).

   Hang on tight. You’re going to keep your seat belts on all the while you read this one.

   It begins innocuously enough. On a whim Perry Mason buys at an auction a box containing the personal effects of a young woman who recently committed suicide, presumed lost at sea with no body found. Among the items in the box, however, are five volumes of the woman’s diaries. When it is known that he has them, he quickly has a very handsome offer for them. Does he sell? Need you ask?

   As it turns out, the woman’s employer is an eccentric millionaire part of whose home has been transformed into a zoo for all kinds of monkeys, chimps and apes – including gorillas. And when the man is found dead, Mason’s client claims that she saw a gorilla kill him with a knife. When Mason goes to the house, he finds the gorillas on the loose and himself face-to-face with the most ferocious one of them.

   Neither Hercule Poirot nor Sam Spade had this kind of narrow escape.

   Given the hypothesis, though, Gardner is in top form with this one, his usual smooth but idiosyncratic writing combining with a plot perhaps even more complicated than usual. Unfortunately the trial scene in this one is marred by a tedious recitation of the fine points of testing for human blood versus that of a gorilla, and a fairly ridiculous ending that will remind you of one of the worst facets of B-movie jungle movies. (Dan Stumpf, please take note.)

   On the other hand, Perry and Della Street do find time to share a long kiss, and later on we find Perry’s arm holding her somewhat affectionately about the waist. I have no idea where Gardner thought this might lead, but I’m fairly sure it was nowhere fast.