You are hereEssays on Life / Genre Gems

Genre Gems




"No one's heard of Perry Mason, at least among the young people," said my friend definitively. Even though I wanted to disagree with her, I feared that she was right. If anyone below 30 knew of the intrepid fictional lawyer at all now, it was through the 25 or so bloated Perry Mason TV movies that were tired exercises in nostalgia, useful mainly for giving Raymond Burr a last hurrah in his most famous role.

Burr was no one's first choice for Mason in the 1957-66 TV series (everyone thought he'd be better as the bad guy, D.A. Hamilton Burger, since Burr had been playing heavies in the movies since the late '40s), but once he was cast the part became his. Urbane, suave, yet thunderous in his cross-examination, he could force a confession out of the most unlikely suspect – and on the witness stand to boot. To this day, those who grew up watching Mason, are still somewhat disappointed on jury duty when witnesses don't confess in open court.

While the television series remains alive on DVD, the 82 source novels by ex-lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) have more or less disappeared from view. Huge bestsellers in their day, these out-of-print gems will prove a revelation to those unfamiliar with them. I originally read them 40 years ago, and just recently finished re-reading my tenth one. They are brilliant, hard-boiled detective stories and, in the first ten, written between 1933 and 1937, Mason is a hard-driving tough guy in the best noir tradition: "I've already smashed one nose," Mason says to one bad guy in The Case of the Stuttering Bishop (1936), "I'd just as soon smash another." The plots are complex and often turn on some real legal point, and very rarely have the hokey witness stand confessions that climax the TV shows. If you've never read a Mason novel, go to Amazon and pick up one,preferably from the 1930s. There's a reason Gardner was the best-selling author of his day – but no reason why these genre gems should be out of print. July 18, 2010

The Novels 1933–50
The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) – A spoiled woman is keen to keep news of her affairs from her powerful husband, even if it costs Perry his freedom when she swears he was on the murder scene.
The Case of the Sulky Girl (1933) – A bratty heiress wants to keep the news of her marriage a secret from the guardian who controls her purse strings, but when he's murdered, her groom is accused.
The Case of the Lucky Legs (1934) – A mistake at a murder scene dogs Perry while he tries to represent a woman taken in by a con man.
The Case of the Howling Dog (1934) – "When a potential client wants to see Perry Mason about a howling dog and a will, the attorney is not interested. He does not enjoy drawing wills, and wonders if the man shouldn't see a veterinarian. However, when the man asks whether a will is legal if the person who made it had been executed for murder, immediately Mason becomes interested. He finds, in addition to the will and the dog, a man who had run away with the wife of another, and a sexy housekeeper."[3]
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:255:]]The Case of the Curious Bride (1935) – A woman claiming not to be a bride consults Mason about her 'friend' whose husband, long thought to have died in a plane crash, turns up alive.
The Case of the Counterfeit Eye (1935) – "Peter Brunold has a bloodshot glass eye to use the "morning after". It is distinctive, closely identified with him, and thus quite a handicap when a corpse is found clutching a bloodshot glass eye. Later, another corpse is found, with another bloodshot glass eye in hand. Perry Mason is in almost as much jeopardy as his client: the lawyer's fingerprints have been found on one of the alleged murder weapons." This is the first novel in which DA Hamilton Burger appears.
The Case of the Caretaker's Cat (1935) – After his employer dies in a fire, a caretaker hires Mason to allow him to keep his cat against the wishes of the men who inherit. When the caretaker is killed, Mason defends the woman accused of his murder.
The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece (1936) – When two men change bedrooms at a house-party, everyone thinks that the sleepwalker with the carving knife killed the wrong man.
The Case of the Stuttering Bishop (1936) – Mason gets a telephone call from a man who identifies himself as Anglican Bishop William Mallory, recently returned from many years in Australia, and tells Mason that he will testify on the behalf of Mason's client, if Mason can find him. But Mason observes that a bishop who's delivered many sermons is unlikely to stutter.
The Case of the Dangerous Dowager (1937) – Mason is hired to retrieve a spoiled granddaughter's gambling IOUs by a wealthy cigar-smoking dowager. A murder aboard a gambling ship is beyond the three-mile limit.
The Case of the Lame Canary (1937) – A snoopy neighbour and a canary whose claws have been cut too short provide the clues to an illicit affair and a murder.
The Case of the Substitute Face (1938) – During a dark and stormy night aboard ship, a man goes missing. A portrait photograph is mysteriously changed out of a frame. Mason must solve the mystery to save a life.[[wysiwyg_imageupload:256:]]
The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe (1938) – Mason defends an elderly woman who claims to have no memory of shooting a man, but he needs to know why she would go shoplifting when she has plenty of money in her purse.
The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) – "One of Perry Mason's trademarks is his ability, in court, to switch the physical evidence in a case. This is generally done with guns or bullets and confuses the jury, to his client's advantage. In this case, Perry offers a coroner's inquest two parrots, one of which swore like a muleskinner and was found near the body of a millionaire hermit who had been murdered.[3] "This early Perry Mason is uncommonly full of detection, and the games played in it with parrots do not detract from plausibility. Denouement not huddled -- all in all, a model in his special genre."[4] In the television production of "The Case of the Perjured Parrot", the parrot was voiced by Mel Blanc.
The Case of the Rolling Bones (1939) – A murder during the California Gold Rush has ramifications that lead to murder in the present day. This novel is the first one for Mason's switchboard operator, Gertie.
The Case of the Baited Hook (1940) – Mason is given a third of a $10,000 bill to represent a masked woman in the future. It takes him almost until the murder trial to find out which cheating woman is his client.
The Case of the Silent Partner (1940) – A dynamic young businesswoman is in danger of losing control of her flower shop, and someone sends poisoned bonbons to a nightclub hostess. Mason must reacquire some stock and defend the businesswoman. This novel is the first to feature Lt. Arthur Tragg.
The Case of the Haunted Husband (1941) – A cigarette girl in San Francisco leaves her job and the city abruptly, and hitchhikes to LA, but gets in a car wreck with a would-be Romeo, waking up in the hospital to find herself charged with his death. [[wysiwyg_imageupload:257:]]
The Case of the Empty Tin  (1941) – A snoopy spinster discovers the passing of coded messages sealed into empty tins, but it's someone else who gets killed in the basement.
The Case of the Drowning Duck (1942) – Perry Mason and Della Street are on a vacation in Palm Springs when a wealthy businessman asks for advice regarding his daughter's boyfriend, a chemist who drowns ducks and becomes a murder suspect.
The Case of the Careless Kitten (1942) – Mason defends Della Street, who is accused of helping a material witness or possible murder suspect vanish from a crime scene. Key clues in the murder case are the behaviour of a greedy kitten and the impersonation of an elderly crippled woman.
The Case of the Buried Clock (1943) – A returning war veteran stumbles across a buried clock that's apparently keeping sidereal time. A murder victim is found in a rural area where it seems all the neighbors go out for walks at night.
The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito (1943) – A wealthy prospector is camping in his own back yard, someone tries to poison Perry and Della, Paul Drake poses as a drunken prospector, and the clue to the murder is the sound of a mosquito flying in lazy circles.
The Case of the Crooked Candle (1944) – A key element in a complicated story of a body found on a beached boat is a candle that's standing at a steep angle. "The details of the boat grounded at low tide with a corpse in the cabin are superbly handled, and the rest of the story – motives and characters – is both believable and reasonably straightforward. ... (It) is an absolutely first-rate job."[4]
The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde (1944) – A beautiful blonde gets a fist in the eye from her employer's son, and Mason must defend her when her roommate is murdered.
The Case of the Golddigger's Purse (1945) – Mason is surprised to hear that someone wants to consult him about a sick goldfish, and the case also concerns a crooked partner, a secret formula and a golddigging ingenue accused of murder.
The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife (1945) – A shady promoter is blocking the sale of a valuable island when he comes up with an oil lease, but when he's murdered on a pleasure cruise, it's his wife who stands trial for murder.
The Case of the Borrowed Brunette (1946) – A young woman is hired to impersonate someone because her measurements and coloring match a very specific list. It's a tricky ploy in a divorce and soon leads to a murder charge against her chaperone.
The Case of the Fan Dancer's Horse (1947) – There are two gorgeous fan dancers with the same name, two blood-soaked ostrich fans, a samurai sword and a horse with a very unusual addition to its saddle.[[wysiwyg_imageupload:258:]]
The Case of the Lazy Lover (1947) – A man tells everyone that his wife has run away with his best friend, who seems to have a strange lack of enthusiasm about the affair. The case leads to murder and a trial that hinges on multiple sets of footprints.
The Case of the Lonely Heiress (1948) – Mason is hired to find the identify of an "heiress" who ran ads in a lonely hearts magazine. Later, he defends the heiress against a murder charge.
The Case of the Vagabond Virgin (1948) – A man picks up an innocent young hitchhiker and gets into even more trouble when his partner is found murdered.
The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom (1949) – First Mason gets his face slapped by a beautiful burglar in his office building, then a Tijuana wedding trip leads to a murder.
The Case of the Cautious Coquette (1949) – At the behest of Mason, who is representing a young man hit by a car, Paul Drake places an ad in the paper asking for witnesses to the hit and run. To Mason's astonishment, two different drivers are identified, one by a mysterious letter enclosing a key. The 1949 hard cover edition included two Mason short stories: The Case of the Crying Swallow and The Case of the Crimson Kiss.
The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1950) – A young woman swims to Mason's canoe to escape a vicious watchdog, then is accused of jewel theft and murder. But it's the dog who provides the key to the murder.
The Case of the One-Eyed Witness (1950) – When a mysterious woman hires Mason over the telephone, he must defend her in a case that involves an adoption racket and her husband's murder. A woman in an eyepatch is a key witness.

The Novels 1951-73
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:259:]]The Case of the Fiery Fingers (1951) – Mason defends a woman twice – once on theft charges, and then on murder charges.
The Case of the Angry Mourner (1951) – A playboy is murdered in his lakeside cabin and a mother and daughter, who had both been there, start to suspect each other so call on Perry Mason for help.
The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink (1952) – A waitress in a favorite restaurant of Mason's runs out in the middle of the lunch rush, leaving behind her moth-eaten mink, and is hit by a car. Later, a message in lipstick helps Mason disprove the murder case against her framed boss.
The Case of the Grinning Gorilla (1952) – Mason buys the diary of a drowned woman at an auction, and after a murder he finds himself confronted by a hypnotized gorilla.
The Case of the Hesitant Hostess (1953) – A hostess at a nightclub seems determined to convince a jury that Mason's client committed armed robbery, so he goes over her story in painstaking detail on the stand.
The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister (1953) – Mason, hired to protect a family from illegitimate blackmail, ends up defending a woman who the police claim murdered the blackmailer. "One of the tightest knit and richest in gimmicks and characters. (Mason's) fiddling with tape recorders is excellent, and the dialogues in and out of court show what can be done with backchat to create drama."
The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (1954) – When young Steffanie Malden, recently widowed by the death of her husband, the very successful surgeon Summerfield Malden, consults Mason, she wants the $100,000 her husband and nurse hid from his wife and the IRS in a love nest, but changes priorities when the authorities prosecute her for murder.
The Case of the Runaway Corpse (1954) – Mason defends a woman accused of poisoning her husband—even though witnesses saw the corpse climb out the motel window.
The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954) – Mason helps a young defense attorney get an innocent verdict from a woman accused of theft. Later, he defends her in a murder case with a large number of twists. Served as the first episode of the television series.
The Case of the Sun Bather's Diary (1955) – Mason defends the daughter of a man convicted of armed robbery who first loses her trailer, all her clothes and her diary.
The Case of the Glamorous Ghost (1955) – A scantily-clad woman claims she's got amnesia, and can't remember a thing about the jewel smuggling or the murder.
The Case of the Nervous Accomplice (1955) – Mason is hired by a woman whose husband is having an affair to wreck it, then defends her on a murder charge.
The Case of the Terrified Typist (1956) – After a temporary typist who enjoys trick photography has left Mason's office in a tearing hurry, he and Della find some diamonds stuck in chewing gum on the bottom of her desk. Her murder trial features an ending unique in the Mason series.
The Case of the Gilded Lily (1956) – Mason defends a man thought to have killed his blackmailer.
The Case of the Demure Defendant (1956) – A woman confesses to murder during a therapy session, and her doctor consults Mason as to the legal ramifications. Later Mason defends the woman in court.
The Case of the Screaming Woman (1957) – Mason defends a woman accused of murdering a doctor running an illegal adoption agency.
The Case of the Lucky Loser (1957) – Mason defends a man previously convicted of killing a man with an automobile while intoxicated. When the body is found to have been killed with a gun, Mason argues double jeopardy as a plea, but eventually clears his client of all crimes.
The Case of the Daring Decoy (1957) – Mason defends a man embroiled in a stock battle who is accused of killing a business rival's secretary. Was the woman in the nightie and the mudpack trying to keep the gun herself, or palm it off?
The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll (1958) – Mason defends a woman against charges of two murders - she has already stolen $4,000, stabbed a man with an ice pick and fled a fatal accident but he is convinced she is innocent of murder.
The Case of the Long-legged Models (1958) – Mason defends a woman accused of murdering the man who murdered her father, and does so by juggling identical guns until no one knows what's what and involving the car dealer and his newlywed son.
The Case of the Calendar Girl (1958) – Mason masterfully defends a man accused of murdering a corrupt politician by shoving the blame onto a model. When the model is accused of murder using the evidence Mason uncovered, Perry defends her.
The Case of the Singing Skirt (1959) – Mason's client is framed for theft and fired because she wouldn't help cheat a casino patron. Then she's accused of murder, and the gun juggling begins. "The court scene is excellent; the characters, though thin as usual, are amply credible; and the pace never flags."
The Case of the Mythical Monkeys (1959) – Gladys Doyle, secretary of underworld moll turned bestselling novelist Mauvis Meade, keeps an appointment in her employer's stead at mountaintop Summit Inn, but gets stuck in the mud on her way back and spends the night with a man who vanishes. A crucial clue is a scarf printed with the three mythical monkeys -- "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."
The Case of the Deadly Toy (1959) – A boy with a toy printing press and a .22 leads Perry Mason to a murder trial where his mother is on trial for the murder of his father, and his wealthy grandfather will do anything to get her convicted.
The Case of the Waylaid Wolf (1960) – A woman defends herself from date rape by stealing his car. When her would-be rapist is found dead, Mason defends her on the murder charge and does some spectacular misdirection with the evidence.
The Case of the Duplicate Daughter (1960) – Perry's not sure which woman was running away from the murder garage wearing only a nightie and as a retainer he asks for title to all the money found in the garage.
The Case of the Shapely Shadow (1960) – A secretary, convinced her boss is being blackmailed, hire Mason to secure evidence, but when her boss is found murdered, she needs him to defend her on murder charges.
The Case of the Spurious Spinster (1961) – A shoebox full of cash and an elderly mine owner who disappears, wheelchair and all, leave a secretary charged with murder.
The Case of the Bigamous Spouse (1961) – Gwynn Elston, door-to-door saleswoman, finds herself implicated in the murder of her best friend's new husband.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:260:]]The Case of the Reluctant Model (1962) – Mason gets involved in a case of slander when an art dealer says a painting by Phellipe Feteet is a fake. When Mason goes to the apartment of the main witness all he finds is a very dead body.
The Case of the Blonde Bonanza (1962) – Mason thinks it's crazy that someone is paying a beautiful girl $100 a week to put on weight, but she might be a missing heir—or a murderer. "A diabolically clever variation on the confidence game of the "lost heir" is the foundation of this delightful caper, in which Perry Mason once again sees through the machinations of people generally quite as able as himself. ... Again, the court scene is thrilling and brilliant."[4]
The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands (1962) – An interesting legal point arises about an embezzler who gambles on the ponies and wins, and an interesting murder trial centres on some trout packed in dry ice.
The Case of the Amorous Aunt (1963) – Mason defends a young woman accused of murdering her aunt's fiancé.
The Case of the Stepdaughter's Secret (1963) – Blackmail leads to murder on a yacht and a cash-filled purse on the bottom of the ocean weighted down with a gun.
The Case of the Mischievous Doll (1963) – Mason is hired to identify a woman based on an appendix scar, as she fears being a look-alike to an heiress might be a setup for her arrest. Mason later defends the heiress on murder charges.
The Case of the Phantom Fortune (1964) – Mason is hired to protect a man's wife from an unknown blackmailer. However, while Mason's ingenious plan to ruin the blackmailer works, he ends up having to defend the man after he is prosecuted for murder.
The Case of the Horrified Heirs (1964) – Mason defends a woman twice; once on drug smuggling charges, and once on murder charges.
The Case of the Daring Divorcee (1964) – A purse containing thousands of dollars and a twice-fired gun is left in Mason's office, but his potential client has disappeared.
The Case of the Troubled Trustee (1965) – Why would a talented investment advisor embezzle a quarter of a million dollars from his client 'for her own good?' Mason first advises him, then defends him as the case becomes murder.
The Case of the Beautiful Beggar (1965) – When her wealthy uncle disappears, his niece hasn't got a cent, except his cheque for $150,000. Did she poison his Chinese food after she kidnapped him from the asylum?
The Case of the Worried Waitress (1966) – A pretty waitress is accused of stealing $100 from her wealthy aunt's hatbox, and a blind pencil-seller earns enough to come to work in a taxicab.
The Case of the Queenly Contestant (1967) – Mason is hired to stop a news story about an old beauty pageant. Later, he ends up defending the former contestant on murder charges.[[wysiwyg_imageupload:261:]]
The Case of the Careless Cupid (1968) – Mason defends a wealthy widow who is accused of murdering her husband.
The Case of the Fabulous Fake (1969) – Trying to protect her brother, a woman tries to handle the person blackmailing him - only to be implicated in his murder.
The Case of the Fenced-In Woman  (1972) – Mason becomes involved in the bizarre case of a house split right through the living room with a barbed-wire fence—and a body in the pool.
The Case of the Postponed Murder  (1973) – A young woman asks Mason to find her sister—but what does she really want? And did the corpse sail the yacht away after he was shot?

Short Stories 1947-53

The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947)--published with The Case of Cautious Coquette (1949) and then in a short story collection The Case of the Crying Swallow published in 1970.

The Case of the Crimson Kiss (1948)--published with The Case of the Cautious Coquette (1949) and then in a short story collection The Case of the Crimson Kiss published in 1971.
The Case of the Irate Witness (1953)--first book publication Fiction Goes to Court : Favorite Stories of Lawyers and the Law Selected by Famous Lawyers