Blog: Writing about all things pulplish

Perry Mason novels: #41 and #42

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, June 30, 2017 in Old TV Shows, Perry Mason, Pulp
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Perry Mason novels: #41 and #42
Erle Stanley Gardner - I guess he did have a sense of humor.

Erle Stanley Gardner – I guess he did have a sense of humor.

Perry Mason. You remember him from the TV series starrring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale. Readers will remember that even before that, Perry Mason appeared in a series of mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner. A mind-boggling 86 Perry Mason novels, and just about all of them were adapted for the TV series. Before Gardner started writing the Perry Mason series, he wrote for the pulp magazines.

Erle Stanley Gardner wrote for the pulps for a dozen years before he did his first Perry Mason book. He was published 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 there’s more.

In my series of Perry Mason reviews, we have worked our way up to 1953. There were two Perry Mason courtroom dramas published that year, and this blog entry will cover them both.

‘The Case of the Hesitant Hostess’

Book cover for The Case of the Hesitant Hostess

Book cover for The Case of the Hesitant Hostess

April 1953 saw the release of The Case of the Hesitant Hostess. District Attorney Hamilton Burger is nowhere to be seen in this, the 41st Perry Mason mystery. And that’s okay, because Perry’s got a nasty adversary in the person of Harry Fritch, the Assistant D.A. who takes on Perry in this one. Everybody else shows up, though. Perry, Della and Paul labor together to defend the innocent. And Lieutenant Tragg and Sergeant Holcomb assist Harry Fritch for the police department.

As our story opens, Perry is in the middle of a case. He’s in court defending Albert Brogan of a robbery charge. But soon, a murder victim is found, and Albert Brogan is charged with that crime, as well. And exactly who is this “hesitant hostess” of the title? She’s a slinky young thing that Perry has had brought from Las Vegas as witness for the defense. But she disappears right out from under his nose just as he’s about to call her to the stand. Talk about pulling the rug out from under the case!

Les Tremayne of radio fame.

Les Tremayne of radio fame.

There are two reasons that I think I liked this mystery more than most Perry Mason stories I’ve read. For one thing, there’s more courtroom action. The story opens in court and continues in court throughout the entire story, with various breaks for action elsewhere. And then there’s some terrific byplay between Perry and two particular witnesses. Perry knows they are lying, but they are smooth… very smooth. He can’t catch them. The cross-examinations are a real joy to watch!

This story was adapted for the TV series and was broadcast on April 5, 1958, as the 29th episode of season one. One of the guest stars was a regular radio actor back during radio’s golden age. Les Tremayne acted in so many radio shows that I’ve lost count. Mr. First Nighter. The Thin Man. The Falcon. If you’re watching this Perry Mason episode, just close your eyes and listen to that voice. You’ll recognize it immediately. It’s so smoooooth.

‘The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister’

Book cover for The Case of the Green-eyed Sister

Book cover for The Case of the Green-eyed Sister

In November 1953, The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister hit the bookstores. Usually, each Perry Mason mystery ends with the murderer being brought to justice. But not this one. This is only the second time that such a thing has happened, the first being in the 1934 story The Case of the Howling Dog. In this one, the murderer has fled the country and may never come to justice. But the reader doesn’t feel too outraged; the murder victim was a vile blackmailer who clearly deserved what he got.

J.J. Fritch is the blackmailer who is killed. Fritch was blackmailing his old partner, Ned Bain. Perry Mason is helping out the Bain family, after being engaged by the eldest daughter Sylvia… the beautiful, green-eyed sister of the story title. But it’s the younger, mousy daughter Hattie that’s accused of murdering Fritch. And Perry must defend her while tap-dancing around charges that he conspired to tamper with evidence. Charges backed up by a tape recording of the conversation.

Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake are all back for this 42nd Perry Mason novel. Paul doesn’t get much to do, this time. Gertie’s there, but there’s no sign of law-clerk Jackson. Sergeant Holcomb and Lieutenant Tragg show up, but D.A. Hamilton Burger is absent. So Perry gets to face off against Delbert Moon, a deputy district attorney who really has the goods on Perry, this time. It all makes for another delightful courtroom romp.

Paul Drake, Della Street and Perry Mason in a screen shot of this episode.

Paul Drake, Della Street, and Perry Mason in a screen shot of this episode.

This was also adapter for a season one episode of the TV series. It aired Feb. 8, 1958, being the 21st episode of the inaugural season. The television episode took some liberties with the original story. After all, you can’t have a killer escape justice on TV. Network Standards and Practices just wouldn’t allow that. So the killer is caught, here. I won’t say more, but you should read the book, then watch the TV episode, and compare the two. You’ll find it… interesting.

Two excellent Perry Mason books from 1953. Yes, 1953 was a very good year for Perry Mason. Erle Stanley Gardner was writing at his peak, having fallen into a comfortable rhythm with his characters, but never veering into complacency. The stories are just as thrilling as ever, and you will do yourself a favor it you read them.

One Comment

  1. Tremayne also acted in more than a few films, among them “War of the Worlds” and “North By Northwest”. And he was Mentor in the 70s live action show “Shazam!”, about comic book superhero Captain Marvel.