Blog: Writing about all things pulplish

Perry Mason: novels #33 and #34

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, March 31, 2017 in Old TV Shows, Perry Mason, Pulp
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Perry Mason: novels #33 and #34
Erle Stanley Gardner showing a rare smile.

Erle Stanley Gardner showing a rare smile.

It’s time for two more reviews of Perry Mason. Not the TV show, starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale. I’m talking about the series of books upon which the TV show was based.

And what does all this have to do with pulp magazines, you may ask? Erle Stanley Gardner was the author of the best-selling mystery series, and Gardner started his writing creer in the pulps, way back in 1921. He wrote for almost all the major pulps of the time, from Double Detective to Black Mask and many more.

Perry Mason came along in 1933, and was never published in a pulp magazine. The series was intended for the book market, and that’s where it got its very successful start. And that’s where it stayed for all 86 of the Perry Mason books, ending in 1973 with the posthumous publication of The Case of the Postponed Murder.

‘The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom’

 Book cover for the 33rd Perry Mason novel.

Book cover for the 33rd Perry Mason novel.

The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom was published in 1949. There’s no sign of District Attorney Hamilton Berger in this story, because it’s set in San Diego not Los Angeles. But Lieutenant Tragg shows up and joins Perry, Della, and Paul in this 33rd Perry Mason mystery. Also, the belligerent Sergeant Holcomb gets in his licks. And telephone operator Gertie makes a brief appearance. No sign of law-clerk Jackson, however.

Edward Charles Garvin wanted to check with Perry Mason on the legality of a Mexican divorce. It seems he got one, and has since recently remarried. But is the divorce and subsequent marriage legal? The uncertain status makes him a dubious bridegroom. His first wife, Ethel Carter Garvin, files charges of bigamy, claiming the Mexican divorce didn’t count. As soon as Edward Garvin high-tails it to Mexico with his new bride, his first wife is murdered. And the police assert he snuck out of Mexico to commit the crime… and can prove it!

Perry Mason and the ex-wife.

Perry Mason and the ex-wife

But good old Perry will find some way to clear his client. This time he comes up against a nasty pair of D.A. and his deputy in court, and has a tough time besting them. The courtroom fireworks are at their best, here. Erle Stanley Gardner expertly draws the reader along the twisted trail, fooling them at every turn, right up until the final amazing climax. You’ll never guess whodunnit!

When Perry Mason made it to television in 1957 the novels were adapted for teleplays. This particular one shows up as episode 29 of season two. It was broadcast June 13, 1959, over the CBS network. They played a little fast and loose with the plot, and left out a couple of things that were important parts of the book. But it was basically the same story. My recommendation… read the book first, then watch the TV episode. You’ll be glad you did.

‘The Case of the Cautious Coquette’

Book cover for Perry Mason #34.

Book cover for Perry Mason #34.

The Case of the Cautious Coquette, also from 1949, is one of the weaker Perry Mason mysteries. It’s Erle Stanley Gardner’s 34th entry in the series, and seems confusing to me. Perhaps some editor started cutting a bit too much? Whatever the reason, the final solution to the murder comes across as muddled. And if I’m reading it right, there were actually two murderers, and one escapes justice.

Lucille Barton is the cautious coquette of the title. She knows some vital information about a hit-and-run case that Perry is working on. She claims that she knows nothing, but Perry receives two letters stating otherwise. In a desk in her apartment, he finds the information he needs… plus he finds a gun. And, sure enough, after leaving his fingerprints on the gun, it turns out to be a murder weapon. Lucille Barton’s ex-husband is later found, an apparent suicide with the gun at his side. But it’s murder, and Perry’s on the hook!

The regular gang is all here. Perry, Della, and Paul carry the action, as usual. Lieutenant Tragg of Homicide shows up, as does the blundering Sergeant Holcomb. District Attorney Hamilton Burger again is the opposing counsel. Telephone operator Gertie makes a token appearance; law-clerk Jackson is a no-show.

One thing I found confusing is that people are mentioned who never actually show up. And they are important to the case. It makes it hard to keep track of everyone. And the final solution to the mystery is anything but clear in my mind. Maybe I need to read it a second time.

Courtroom scene from the Cautious Coquette.

Courtroom scene from the Cautious Coquette.

I don’t remember seeing the television version of this story. Perhaps I should watch it, and see if the plot becomes clearer in the visual medium of TV. This mystery was broadcast on Jan. 18, 1958, as part of the first season of Perry Mason on television. It seems they picked the best stories for adaptation during season one, so by that reasoning this mystery must have been one of the best. And that gives me added reason to find and watch the TV version.

I should point out that if you can catch Perry Mason in reruns today, like on MeTV or something, you’ll be missing parts. They’ve been edited for syndication. The original episodes ran about 52 minutes, but they’ve been trimmed to 44 minutes for today’s TV. In order to see the all of the original episodes in their full length, you’ll need to view the DVDs (all seasons are available) or catch them on a streaming service. Currently, the only streaming service carrying them is CBS All Access. Sorry Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu customers.

Or… here’s a novel idea… skip the TV shows, and read the books. They are terrific and well worth your time. Pick one… any one!