Blog: Writing about all things pulplish

Perry Mason novels: #43 and #44

Posted by at 10:00 am Friday, July 28, 2017 in Old TV Shows, Perry Mason, Pulp
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Perry Mason novels: #43 and #44
A young Erle Stanley Gardner and his first wife, Natalie Talbert.

A young Erle Stanley Gardner and his first wife, Natalie Talbert.

Erle Stanley Gardner was a pulp writer. He started as a lawyer in 1911, but by 1921 the lure of writing won out. And after 12 years of prolific writing for pulps like Black Mask, Argosy, Dime Detective and others — many others — he had his first Perry Mason novel published in 1933. A grand total of 86 Perry Mason mysteries were published on a pretty regular basis right up until his death in 1970 and two of them posthumously. Mystery lovers couldn’t get enough of them.

In 1954 he had three Perry Mason novels published. Now that’s writing! You’d think that if he was writing that fast, that the stories would suffer. Surprisingly, not. In today’s blog entry, I’m going to review the first two of those three stories, and you’ll find they each are inventive and most satisfying for any mystery fan.

‘The Case of the Fugitive Nurse’

Book cover for The Case of the Fugitive Nurse

Book cover for The Case of the Fugitive Nurse

The Case of the Fugitive Nurse was published in February 1954, after being serialized in the Saturday Evening Post between September and November 1953. It’s another enjoyable romp with Perry and friends… and enemies. This time, his client could be one of the enemies. She accuses him of stealing $100,000, and there’s no way he can disprove it!

Stephanie Malden is the wife of successful surgeon Dr. Summerfield Malden. Dr. Malden has been killed in an unfortunate airplane accident. But before you know it, Perry is snagged into the case, Mrs. Malden is accused of engineering the accident and the identity of the corpse is in question. And the good doctor’s nurse? She has vital information, but can’t be found.

The gang’s all back, Perry, Della and Paul. And Sergeant Holcomb and D.A. Hamilton Burger, too. No sign of Lieutenant Tragg, however. Telephone-operator Gertie and law clerk Jackson each get a single mention, just to show they haven’t been forgotten.

This one ends with some nagging loose ends. Oh, the mystery is solved, that’s for sure. We know who died, who killed him, how and why. The murderer is in custody and Perry is off the hook. But there are several other important plot threads left unresolved. So while the solution leaves us with a satisfied feeling, the unresolved threads leave us feeling a bit unsatisfied. But it’s still great to see Perry get Burger’s goat, yet again!

The second time the story was used on TV, this time entitled...

The second time the story was used on TV, this time titled…

When the TV series began in 1957, this story was adapted for a teleplay and was broadcast Feb. 15, 1958, as the 22nd episode of season one. Lieutenant Tragg wasn’t in the book, but he’s in the television episode. Hey, he was a regular! And he got a pretty good part in this story. Luckily, it glossed over some of the weaknesses of the novel, and it is an episode well worth watching.

The script was rewritten in 1966 and became the 17th episode of season 9, this time titled “The Case of the Vanishing Victim.” There were seven plots reused like this during the series’ run. Oh, and actor George Wallace, remembered by many as rocketman Commando Cody, had a major role, here. Certainly worth noting.

‘The Case of the Runaway Corpse’

The Case of the Runaway Corpse book cover.

The Case of the Runaway Corpse book cover.

The Case of the Runaway Corpse was a change of pace for the 44th Perry Mason novel. Perry goes to court against a new adversary, Talbert Vandling, the D.A. of Fresno County, and there’s very little courtroom acrimony. No objections, no shouting. Quite a difference from the behavior of L.A. D.A. Hamilton Burger, to say the least.

In this story, Perry’s client is a married woman whose husband thinks she’s going to poison him. And sure enough, he does kick the bucket, a victim of poison. Or does he? Apparently the corpse got up, climbed out the window, and made good his escape. When the corpse is eventually found, two doctors disagree on which poison killed him. But no one disagrees on who did it. Yup, it was the wife! And Perry is given the task of defending her.

 Title screen for the TV episode based upon this book.

Title screen for the TV episode based upon this book.

Paul Drake doesn’t get as much to do, in this story. And there’s no sign of Hamilton Burger or Lieutenant Tragg. Perry and Della carry most of the action. Telephone operator Gertie is mentioned; no sign of law-clerk Jackson. But, all-in-all, a very satisfying mystery with twists and turns to confound every mystery lover.

When Raymond Burr brought the character to TV, this story was used as the 10th episode of season 1, broadcast on Nov. 23, 1957. The setting was moved from the book, so that Lieutenant Tragg and Hamilton Burger could have their regular roles. The resulting story was a bit weak, but still worthwhile viewing.

If you’ve never read a Perry Mason novel, you have been depriving yourself of a great pleasure. Yes, the TV shows are great, but the books are even better. From a master writer who at the peak of his career was considered the most widely read author in the world.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been tempted to read the Perry Mason series in order. Your fine series is motivating me to give it a try!

    • If I can win over just one person, I’ll consider my efforts worthwhile. I’d recommend some specific title, but they’re all so darned good that I can’t pick one out.

      The TV series fits well with the book series, so you might want to watch a couple of the old TV shows before taking the plunge into the books. It’ll be an easy transition, believe me.

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