Perry Mason: novels #35 and #36
Perry Mason for the defense, your honor. Although Perry Mason never appeared in the pulps, he had close ties to the pulps. Author Erle Stanley Gardner was a pulp author for a dozen years before writing the first Perry Mason book. He was quite a prodigeous writer, too. He had over 400 stories published before he started with Perry Mason. So when people say that Erle Stanley Gardner got his training in the pulps, there is definitely a reason for it.
Yes, Perry Mason was on TV. We all remember Raymond Burr in his definiing performances as the lawyer who never lost a case. Well, almost never. But please remember that there were nearly 50 Perry Mason novels published before the TV series ever started. The novels came first. Still, Raymond Burr left such an indelible imprint upon the character, that you’ll be forgiven if you visualize the face of Perry Mason to be Raymond Burr when you read the books. I do.
Every few weeks I write a two short reviews of Perry Mason, going in publication order. And here we are, at #35 and #36, now.
‘The Case of the Negligent Nymph’
Gardner released two Perry Mason novels in 1950. The first was The Case of the Negligent Nymph. And for the first time in 35 Perry Mason novels, there’s a courtoom confession. In almost all of the television episodes, the guilty party would break down in court and admit their guilt. But it was not so in the novels. In the novels, the guilty party was unmasked in some other manner. But here, we have the first actual courtroom confession. It’s about time!
There’s no sign of Lt. Tragg or District Attorney Hamilton Burger in this tale. But that doesn’t keep it from being a terrific murder mystery. It’s one of the best Perry Mason mysteries to date. The scenarios make sense, I had no trouble keeping the characters clear in my head, everyone acted consistently, and the solution to the crime had a great twist. I really liked this one.
In this story, Perry gets sucked into a crime-in-progress. He’s out in a canoe gathering some background information, when he spies a nubile young thing swim ashore, dress, and walk up the path to a mansion. Shortly thereafter she comes running from the house, pursued by a ferocious dog. He offers her safety within his canoe, and thereby becomes implicated in crime. And one crime will lead to another… murder!
No sign of telephone operator Gertie, here. But law-clerk Carl Jackson gets to take part in the story. And of course Paul, Della, and Perry form their usual happy trio. It all mixes together to form one of the best of the Perry Mason mysteries.
This story was adapted for television in late 1957 when it was broadcast as the twelfth episode of the first season, Dec. 7, 1957. I don’t remember seeing it, personally, but it hasn’t gotten very good reviews, so maybe that’s for the best. Stick with the book!
‘The Case of the One-Eyed Witness’
The second Perry Mason novel published in 1950 was The Case of the One-Eyed Witness. Two in one year. Whew, what a production schedule. And yet with all that, Erle Stanley Gardner still bats one out of the park. How can these mysteries seem so puzzling and unsolvable, until the solution is revealed, at which point they seem so simple and logical? It must be the mark of an expert mystery author. And Erle Stanley Gardner does it again with this, his 36th Perry Mason mystery.
Perry and Della are out eating when Perry received an urgent call from a mystery woman. They finally track her down in order to see what’s wrong. Her name is Myrtle Fargo, and before you know it, her husband is killed. Luckily, Myrtle has a perfect alibi — she was on the Greyhound bus to Sacramento at the time of the murder. But unfortunately, her alibi is shot to smithereens when a fellow passenger on the bus, a woman wearing an eye patch, testifies that Myrtle joined the bus ride in mid-trip, after the time of the murder. Now, Perry must find some way to discredit the one-eyed witness.
All the major characters are here: Tragg and Burger for the state; Mason, Drake and Della Street for the defense. And you and I reading along with the gang, as Erle Stanley Gardner weaves yet another intriguing tale of mystery and murder.
This plot was used for another season 1 television program. It aired on Feb. 22, 1958, as the 23rd episode of the season. Angie Dickinson was in the guest cast as Marian Fargo, something I felt should be noted. How anyone could accuse her of murder, however, is beyond me.
Oka, so go watch the episode on TV (you’ll find it streaming online or on DVD) just to see a young Angie Dickinson. But then do yourself a favor and go read the book. You’ll get a better understanding of the plot details than could be seen in an hour-long teleplay. You can still imagine Angie Dickinson when you read about Marian Fargo.