Blog: Writing about all things pulplish

Perry Mason novels: #39 and #40

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, June 9, 2017 in Perry Mason, Pulp
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Perry Mason novels: #39 and #40
 Erle Stanley Gardner dictating his latest book.

Erle Stanley Gardner dictating his latest book.

Erle Stanley Gardner cut his teeth on the pulps. The lawyer turned writer did plenty of writing for Black Mask, Argosy, Clues, Dime Detective… and the list goes on. All of that experience was put into his Perry Mason series of novels, of which there were eventually 86 courtroom dramas. Hey, with those kinds of number, you just know that the stories must have been good. And they were.

In this week’s blog entry, we’re going to take a look at the 39th and 40th of his Perry Mason mystery novels. Let’s see what twisted set of clues lead him into two more encounters with mystery and death.

‘The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink’

 The Case of the Moth-eaten Mink book cover.

The Case of the Moth-eaten Mink book cover.

In April 1952, The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink hit the bookstores. It was Gardner’s 39th Perry Mason story. Now, it seems like you never see the surprise ending coming in these Perry Mason mysteries. But this one was particularly unexpected. And that’s what makes the Perry Mason books the best sellers that they are.

Perry, Della, and Paul Drake are all here, as is phone operator Gertie. And sitting across the table is District Attorney Hamilton Burger and Lieutenant Tragg, as usual. They all know their parts and act true to character, which gives a comforting consistency to the series.

As for the “moth-eaten mink” in the title, it belongs to Dixie Dayton, a waitress. She’s on the run from killers, and wouldn’t you know it, Perry gets involved. What’s a poor waitress doing with a mink coat? And who is her mysterious boyfriend? These strange questions are all eclipsed when the hitman out to get her is murdered. And the trail of this murderer leads back to a year-old cop killing. It’s up to Perry Mason to unravel the whole mess and clear his clients. But it’s going to be tough to do, when even the great Perry Mason himself is called to the stand as witness for the prosecution!

Another hard-to-put-down book from the expert pen of Erle Stanley Gardner. Except for the nagging unanswered question: Who was the girl who impersonated Dixie Dayton?

 In the pilot, Paul Drake's hair was darker.

In the pilot, Paul Drake’s hair was darker.

When Perry Mason was brought to television with Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale in the leading roles, this story was adapted for the 13th episode of season one. It was broadcast on Dec. 14, 1957. It was, however, the first episode filmed. It was used as the series pilot, and was actually filmed several months before any of the other episodes. And it obviously made an impression up on the CBS executives who ordered it to series. Try to watch it, if you get a chance.

And in season nine, the final season, it would seem they were running out of ideas, because they remade The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink and broadcast the new version on Feb. 13, 1966, under the title “The Case of the Sausalito Sunrise.” Another episode to watch, just for the sake of curiosity, if nothing else.

‘The Case of the Grinning Gorilla’

Erle Stanley Gardner had his second Perry Mason novel of 1952, The Case of the Grinning Gorilla, published in November of that year. I’m proud to say that I figured this one out! Well, most if it, anyway. Does that mean it’s a bad mystery novel? Not at all. I just got lucky. It’s Erle Stanley Gardner’s 40th Perry Mason story, and it was still a most intriguing and enjoyable mystery.

 The Case of the Grinning Gorilla book cover.

The Case of the Grinning Gorilla book cover.

Mrs. Joséphine Kempton is accused of murdering her ex-employer, millionaire Benjamin Addicks. She claims she’s innocent. Her story is that Addicks was stabbed to death by a hypnotized gorilla. Yes, you read that correctly. A hypnotized gorilla. With a looney defense like that, she’s guaranteed a trip to the electric chair. But Perry Mason decides to defend her, anyway. And this has just got to be one of Perry’s strangest cases. One that only he has even a remote chance of winning.

The old gang’s still here. Perry is still pulling rabbits out of his hat. Paul Drake is still losing sleep sending out his detectives to follow Perry’s orders and collating all the incoming information. Della is still Perry’s faithful assistant and a bit of a love interest. Lieutenant Tragg is still the suave homicide detective who likes Perry, despite being on opposite sides of the fence. And District Attorney Hamilton Burger is still determined to finally best Mason in court. Telephone operator Gertie shows up briefly and law-clerk Jackson gets mention, as well.

This is one of your more unusual Perry Mason courtroom dramas, but lots of fun, anyway.

Was this one adapted for TV, you ask? But of course! Weren’t they all? It was used for the 28th episode of season eight and was broadcast of April 29, 1965. They made some substantial changes to the plot, but they kept the title, and of course, the gorilla.

The gorilla was played by Janos Prohaska, who made a career out of portraying gorillas. He was Koko the Gorilla on the 1959 series Riverboat. He was Darwin on Bourbon Street Beat in 1960. And the list goes on to include TV shows like The Outer Limits, The Munsters, Honey West, The Lucy Show, Gilligan’s Island, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, Bewitched, Love American Style, and Star Trek. Whew! That guy spent a lot of time in a smelly, sweaty old costume. I don’t envy him. The sacrifices one makes for one’s art…

So, which book should you read? Personally, I say “both.” Each has its own strong points. If you’re looking for the atypical Perry Mason story, maybe The Case of the Grinning Gorilla will suit you better. If you want a more representative mystery, The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink might be your cup of soup. But still say, read ’em both. You won’t regret it.