Perry Mason: novels #27 and #28
Erle Stanley Gardner was one of the well-known examples of a pulp writer who graduated to the slicks and the book market. He was a prolific writer who gave up his law practice to write full time. His first pulp magazine story was published in the June 1921 issue of Breezy Stories. He went on to publish in some of pulpdom’s greatest magazines: Black Mask, Top-Notch Magazine, Sunset, Fawcett’s Triple-X, Argosy, Flynn’s Detective Fiction, Clues, Ace High, Dime Detective, Double Detective… and the list goes on.
When it came to books, he wrote more than just Perry Mason, although those courtroom murder mysteries were perhaps his most famous. There were Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, Doug Selby, Ed Jenkins, Bob Larkin, Speed Dash, Paul Pry, Lester Leith, and I’m probably forgetting some more. He wrote so much that he started using pen names, to avoid watering down the demand for his work. He wrote the Cool and Lam books under the pen name A.A. Fair, for example. Some of his other pen names were Charles M. Green, Grant Holiday, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Robert Park, Robert Parr, and Les Tillray.
But, today, I’m focusing on two of his Perry Mason books. I’m reviewing these in publication order, and we are up to #27 and #28 on his list of 85 Perry Maon books.
‘The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife’
The gang’s all here for Perry Mason’s 27th outing, The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife published in September 1945. Perry, Della and Paul are here, as always. And Lieutenant Tragg and D.A. Hamilton Burger return in their familiar roles. Even switchboard operator Gertie and law clerk Jackson are included. It all makes for another wonderfully twisted murder mystery, the likes of which only Erle Stanley Gardner could tell.
Perry and Della are spending the night on the yacht of wealthy Parker Benton, along with a party of nearly a dozen others. But in the middle of the night, there is a murder. Perry stands on deck in the dark when there’s a scream, a gunshot, and spashes. And into his arms stumbles beautiful Marion Shelby, carrying a recently fired gun. When Scott Shelby, her husband, is found in the water dead from a gunshot wound, there’s little doubt what happened. But Perry must defend Marion Shelby anyway, and somehow prove her innocence.
There’s the usual quota of courtroom action, here. And the usual vindictive give-and-take between counsel for the defense and the prosecution. Ya just gotta love it!
When CBS brought Perry Mason to televison with the wonderful Raymond Burr in the title role, they also adapted this book into a teleplay. It was aired in the second half of the first season, on March 15, 1958. They took a lot of liberties with the adaptation, and it was only a vague shadow of the book version. Still a darned good mystery, though.
Claude Akins — now there’s a guy who’s had so many roles on TV and in the movies that I just don’t know where to start — but anyway, he played Det. Sgt. Philip Dix in this episode.
‘The Case of the Borrowed Brunette’
A year after the publication of The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife it was time for another Perry Mason mystery. Perry, Della, and Paul are back for the 28th romp in the courtroom, courtesy of Erle Stanley Gardner. This time out, in the 1946 story The Case of the Borrowed Brunette, Lieutenant Tragg and Hamilton Burger are only mentioned, but don’t appear. Telephone operator Gertie is here; law clerk Jackson isn’t.
As Perry and Della drive down the city streets, they keep seeing the same woman on each street corner. Maybe not the exact same woman, but pretty darn close. She’s an attractive brunette, age 23 to 25, height five-feet-four-and-one-half inches, weight 111 pounds, waist measurement 24 inches, bust measurement 32, wearing a dark suit and a fluffy collar. After they see six of these women on six successive street corners, Perry has to stop to find out what’s going on. And that will lead him into one of the most complex and amazing mysteries of his career.
Plenty of courtroom action, here. And as usual, Perry is cutting some corners that will threaten to get him disbarred. But he manages to wriggle out of it at the end, and clear his two clients of a murder charge. The guilty party? I never saw it coming! That’s the sign of a good murder mystery.
Apparently CBS television agreed. This story was brought to TV and aired on Jan. 10, 1959, as part of the Perry Mason second season. And this time around, they stuck closer to the plot of the book. I’m sure Erle Stanley Gardner was happy.
Erle Stanley Gardner was a world-class writer. These two books from the mid-1940s show him at the top of his craft. If you have watched the TV shows and have enjoyed them, you should give the books a try. As you read along, you’ll place the faces of Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale on the characters of Perry Mason and Della Street. I know I did. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The actors were excellent matches for the books’ characters.
Pick out a Perry Mason book — any one, it doesn’t matter which — and read it. You won’t regret it. There’s not a dud in the bunch, so pick one that sounds interesting to you. And hopefully my small reviews here will make that job easier. Perry Mason on TV was great… Perry Mason in the books was even greater. Trust me.