1 The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner
This is the first of the Perry Mason novels and it’s a doozy. Perry has a client that is obviously lying to him from moment one. That’s not actually all that uncommon in this series, but the degree to which she insists on continuing to lie, always shifting her story around to yet another untruth, makes her a candidate for most dedicated liar in the entire series. As if that isn’t bad enough, one of her most cherished falsehoods is accusing Perry murdering her husband and she sticks to this story for most of the book. So, Perry has what might be referred to as a hostile client who is maneuvering to keep her lover out of trouble while trying to get the entirety of her murdered husband’s estate. The fact that she might actually be the murderer just stokes up the tension.
The biggest surprise for readers of this series, however, is not that Perry has an untrustworthy client. All his clients lie about something in these books. It’s that this first Perry Mason novel never reaches the courtroom. I’ve only read a half dozen or so of the books, but the dramatic courtroom scenes are a staple of the series. I was quite shocked that Perry managed to end this one without going before the judge and jury.
Perry Mason 55 The Case of the Footloose Doll by Erle Stanley Gardner
This was the most interesting opening to a Perry Mason case that I have yet read. A woman finds out that her fiancé has been embezzling from the company that they both work at and is taking off. She doesn’t know what to do. She starts driving aimlessly and at a gas station, picks up a hitchhiker who is also a woman with some problems on her hands. They talk about running away together and then the hitchhiker does a Thelma and Louise and forces the car they are driving off the road. The hitchhiker is killed, the woman is only bruised. As she gets out of the car, she decides to take the hitchhiker’s identity. Using a match to see by, she accidentally sets the car on fire as she grabs the woman’s purse and walks away. She establishes a new life for herself under the assumed identity (Fern) and then things start falling apart. An insurance investigator figures out what she did and shows her how she can be accused of murdering the other woman and tries to blackmail her. Enter Perry Mason who takes the woman as a client on the strength of a 5 cent retainer. He starts to work on the black mail case, but things quickly get even more complicated.
“Fern” is approached by another woman who is the sister of the man the original Fern was in love with (and possibly pregnant by) and she learns that there are a whole new set of problems over love letters that were in the stolen purse, a payoff, and a second concern over blackmail. And if that isn’t enough, the father of the original “Fern’s” lover enters the picture and he loves to throw his weight around. All of this, mind you, before the mandatory murder case gets introduced.
Gardner really keeps this story jumping and has a closet full of surprises to spring on the reader.
In Alpha Order
Perry Mason 30 The Case of the Lazy Lover by Erle Stanley Gardner
This was my first Perry Mason mystery and I loved it. Perry Mason is one of those fictional characters that everyone’s heard of but that I didn’t actually know much about. The case is interesting from moment one when Mason receives a check from a woman he doesn’t know without instructions. Later he receives a second check from the same woman and the lawyer begins to fear something is up. Questioning the checks, he learns one has been forged but the other is legitimate. What’s going on?
The woman’s husband reaches out to him and tells him his wife has run off with his assistant and its embarrassing to him. He assumes Mason is her lawyer and wants him to tell her to go to Vegas and get a divorce like a grown up.
And then things start to get really complicated. There’s amnesia, a woman pretending to be someone else, a murder (of course, there has to be a murder, it’s s a Perry Mason case and he always defends people accused of murder), and a heck of a lot of really interesting developments.
I loved every page.
Perry Mason 31 The Case of the Lonely Heiress by Erle Stanley Gardner
Perry Mason gets pulled into a potential fraud case in which to prove there is no fraud he has to locate an heiress who has posted a lonely-hearts ad. Doing so proves to be child’s play, but that doesn’t make Mason’s life easier. A jealous wife, a conniving husband, a battle over a will, questionable testimony, and, of course, a murder, quickly add up to make Mason’s life more difficult. Add to that that his client keeps failing to follow his advice and to tell him everything he needs to know to properly defend her. It starts to feel as if Mason is going into this courtroom battle with both hands tied behind him. But that’s what makes these Perry Mason cases so interesting.
Perry Mason 33 The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom by Erle Stanley Gardner
I’ve only read a couple of Perry Mason mysteries but this one was by far the most fun yet. It starts with Perry finding a beautiful woman on his fire escape who is trying really hard not to be seen or identified. He then gets pulled into the kind of case that wouldn’t be nearly such a big deal today. His client has divorced his first wife in Mexico and then gotten remarried. He thought she also wanted the divorce, but now she’s angry and is maneuvering to get control of his company from him and have him arrested on charges of bigamy. While Perry is doing an amazing job of managing this problem, a murder occurs upping the ante tremendously as everyone thinks his client is the murderer.
Now right from the beginning, I think it should be noted that this book didn’t need a murder. The original problem, managing the client’s problems with his (at least in Mexico) ex-wife, was excellent and totally had my interest. I was almost sorry to see the murder because it changed dramatically the nature of the legal problem. But that being said, the courtroom drama was equally fascinating. There’s a humorous element as the prosecutor and his assistant are constantly maneuvering to humiliate Perry (and we, the reader knows Perry is going to win out in the end). They go so far as to (unethically in my opinion) try to get the bar to come down on Perry for doing his job as a defense attorney. But in addition to the normal legal troubles, Perry also (again) has to deal with a client who won’t tell the truth to him, making it ten times as hard for Perry to adequately defend him. Then consider the red herrings... I freely admit that I didn’t figure this one out—but I should have.
Perry Mason 42 The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister by Erle Stanley Gardner
Perry Mason’s in trouble again—this time suspected of murder himself for a significant portion of the novel. His client is being blackmailed and Perry is hard at work to remove the source of her problem when someone preempts his efforts by killing the blackmailer. As usual, this puts Perry arguing in front of a jury seeking to keep his client out of the electric chair.
I thought the courtroom scene was better done than in the other novels in this series that I’ve read. Perry doesn’t have any secret knowledge this time. Instead, he has a theory of the case that he has to work very hard to bring to life through cross examination of the prosecution’s witnesses. The judge was a fun character as well—in control of his courtroom and clearly interested in justice.
Perry Mason 70 The Case of the Stepdaughter’s Secret
A wealthy businessman comes to Perry Mason because his stepdaughter is being blackmailed with what he believes to be a sin from his past. The stepdaughter is engaged to marry a socially prominent man and the businessman is worried about the marriage being spoiled. He hires Mason to handle the problem for him and the lawyer goes to work with his normal flair. It’s a creative solution made more complicated by the hostility of the stepdaughter and the discovery that there are more secrets out there that are the subject of blackmail.
Then one of the blackmailers is murdered and the businessman’s wife is charged with the crime and the book moves into the typical Perry Mason courtroom drama. There’s a lot of snappy cross examination and a classic Mason gambit—all leading up to a very satisfying solution.