Friday, April 13, 2012

It calls the D.A.

Perry Mason is sitting in his office when a woman comes in. She seems very distressed and tries to extract information from Mason on behalf of “a friend” of hers. Mason sees through the ruse and challenges her on it. But the reaction is quite unexpected—the woman gets up and walks out of the office!

This leaves Perry Mason rather upset. He knows the woman is in some sort of serious trouble, and he decides he will help her—this decision is made when he finds out that the woman had left a $50 retainer with his secretary! Luckily, the damsel in distress forgot her purse behind in the office, and thus begins a trail as Perry Mason finds his client and then must help her when she gets involved in a murder!

This is an enjoyable enough story with some relatively hardboiled elements. Perry Mason finds all sorts of creative ways to throw obstacles in his opponents’ direction— and this opponent happens to be the prosecutor who presses charges against the lady (who will remain unnamed by me— finding out who she is is part of the fun of the book). Sometimes, his tactics seems puzzling at the time, but suddenly make complete sense when they pop up again.

What is there that is enjoyable about this book? It’s fun enough to find out who the potential client was, but there’s a bit of lull in the action as we get some mandatory exposition into the book. The murder then occurs, which livens things up considerably, when Perry Mason is introduced to the man who will be behind the prosecutor in pressing charges. This man is a very dangerous opponent, as he is rich enough to afford a legal team comprising of all the country’s top lawyers! Perry must walk a fine line as he fences intellectually with this opponent, and these scenes are some of the most fun.

Another fun aspect is the legal one—the scenes in court are considerably livened by author Erle Stanley Gardner’s own personal experiences as a lawyer. These scenes are given a ring of authenticity to them, and it is hard to duplicate or describe, exactly. But it feels very much like a dramatic trial, and some of Perry Mason’s tactics make you want to stand up and cheer when they finally pay off.

Finally, when Perry Mason pursues a line of questioning that seems immaterial, he is in reality constructing a solid case against the culprit. And apparently, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, this book figured in a real-life murder trial:

The Arizona murder trial was going badly for the district attorney. He knew the accused was guilty; but because of a quirk in the law, he had no hope for a conviction. Then, one day, the district attorney called the suspect's wife to the stand and started an unexpected line of questioning. When the judge demanded an explanation, the district attorney produced The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner. In it, he said, Perry Mason used the same questioning. The Judge withdrew to his chambers, and when he returned, he allowed the district attorney to proceed with his ingenious approach. It changed the course of the trial and led to a verdict of 'Guilty.'

So if you want to find out what this line of questioning is, you might as well read The Case of the Curious Bride—although quite honestly, the conclusion that this questioning arrives to is not unexpected. The book is a relatively quick read and fun enough. Is there anything particularly brilliant about it? I wouldn’t say so. It’s just fun, and honestly, that sounds like a perfectly noble achievement in itself.


  1. There's a lot of truth in that final sentence. Nowadays, people tend to forget that the main concern of mystery writers, back then, was not how they could make their work pass as genuine literature but how to entertain their audience – and there really is nothing wrong with that at all.

    Anyway, this is one of the Perry Mason novels that I wanted to take a shot at ever since Gosho Aoyama recommended it.

  2. I'll put my hand up and say that I've never read a Perry Mason novel, but it does seem that I might be missing out. Maybe when the TBR pile gets to a more manageable level...

  3. Having read all the Perry Masons, there is a fairly consistent level of quality, especially in the earlier books. While none of them are truly tour de forces (with perhaps the exception of The Howling Dog), they are very competently written mysteries.. As Patrick says, sometimes that in itself is enough.

    (And yes, the story about the real life trial is true.)

  4. @TomCat
    Glad you agree with that sentence! This was one of my poorer reviews (I thought-- that's what comes when writing exams delays a proper review for a week) but I did think my conclusion was a perfectly reasonable one. :)

    @Puzzle Doctor
    Honestly, this is the only PM I've ever read-- and this was a re-read, I actually read this one years ago after finding out about the murder trial. So I can testify that PM is fun enough even when you know what's going to happen.

    Thanks for confirming that! Wikipedia can be so unrealiable at times...

  5. The film version (1935) is quite a lot of fun, too.

    1. Great review Patrick - I read a ton of these in my teens but I do find them very hard to distinguish so many years later. It is worth pointing out how the titles from the 30s in particular were very different, much more hardboiled, than the later books and certainly from the classic TV series starring Raymond Burr. In a weird bit of synchronicity, I'm actually posting a review of the 1935 movie tomorrow.

  6. nice review, I haven't read this PM book. What I have read is the case of the crooked candle and thought it was quite entertaining.