To date I’ve never had an amazing, knock your socks off read with the Perry Mason novels by Gardner. However, in the similar vein to Brad at ahsweetmystery blog who keeps on giving Paul Halter’s work a go, I decided to give Gardner one more chance – after all he did make one of the slots for JJ’s Kings of Crime at The Invisible Event. (Enough friend promotion yet? The cheques are in the post, right guys?)
The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) is the first Perry Mason novel and it begins with one of the most slippery and deceptive of clients, Eva Griffin. She was at an inn with a well-known politician called Harrison Blake, despite being married to another man. Unfortunately the inn they were at had a holdup, which involved the police when the robber got shot. She thought they had managed to hide their presence at the scene but unfortunately a gossip sheet has got a hold of the information and want to publish. Griffin wants Mason to negotiate the payoff of this magazine. Yet like many of Mason’s future clients, Griffin is holding a lot of information back from him, even her real name. Suffice to say negotiations with the gossip publication do not go well and riled up, Mason decides to fight the man behind the publication head on, as well as do some checking up on the principals in this case, especially the so called Eva Griffin. Unsurprisingly the case takes on a whole new dangerous level when Mason receives a late night phone call, a call which puts him in the unenviable position of having to look after the interests of someone who is consistently lying to him and equally quite prepared to throw him to the lions (or the police in this case) if it would save their own skins. Mason is going to have to do some quick thinking to get out of this hole…
So has Gardner knocked my socks off this time round? Probably not, but this is probably my favourite Gardner read to date and I think he’s done enough to stop me culling The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) from my TBR pile. The story is fast paced and action filled, as Mason is working against the clock to save himself and his less than likeable client. Unlike my last Gardner read, there is no overly long courtroom scene with equally longwinded courtroom fancy talk. Moreover, I think Gardner does make you have a vested interest in Mason getting out of the situation he is stuck in. Gardner does spend some time in the book setting up who Mason is and I think he can be seen as situated within the hardboiled lone hero genre. He may have assistants and helpers, but at the end of the day he usually plays a lone hand. This comes across in descriptions of him such as when he says ‘I’m a paid gladiator’ and on the opening page the narrator tells us that Mason’s:
‘face in repose was like the face of a chess player who is studying the board… He gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could just work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.’
Furthermore, like a hardboiled protagonist, his legal profession gives him a bit of a morally ambiguous edge, happy to bend the rules a little or a lot and there is the odd bit of needless punching, though thankfully this is kept to a minimum. After all Mason wins the day due to his brains and verbal dexterity, not because of any physical prowess and intimidation. The surprising twist at the end of the book definitely contributed a lot to my final rating of the book, as it links back to events previously mentioned in the story, so is a plausible twist, which doesn’t feel like it has come out of nowhere. So all in all I think I would recommend this book and unsurprisingly due to being the first book in the series, it is a good place to start for new readers.