The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) by Erle Stanley Gardner

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

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…

Overall Thoughts

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.

Rating: 4.25/5

See also:

The Case of the Restless Red Head (1954)

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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6 Responses to The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) by Erle Stanley Gardner

  1. JJ says:

    Brad gave me the details of a bank account which, he said, I could transfer my half of the Promotion Fund into and he’d send the cheque on from there. Has…has he not been sending on the money? Then what the hell have I been paying for these last eight months?!

    It’s interesting how much you’ve expounded my own feelings about a lot of these books — I have at times felt that the plots were often an excuse to work in a legal twist or peculiarity at the end (…Borrowed Brunette does this with devastating aplomb). A lot of the joy is seeing the interaction between Mason and Della Street and Mason and the client…he reminds me of Nero Wolfe in a lot of these scenes, but a Nero Wolfe I actually like and want to spend more time with, as opposed to the pompous arse Stout wrote about (cue pandemonium…sorry, Kate).

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    • haha sounds like you better have a word with Brad, though if you see any pictures of his cat wearing a diamond studded collar, you might have your answer to the question of where your money has been going. Back from the realms of fantasy though, your comments on the parallels between Wolfe and Mason are interesting, as I hadn’t really considered them in that way. I agree Mason is more likeable and although both play a lone hand at times, Mason is more collaborative. Like Gardner, I don’t think Stout has knocked my reading socks off either.

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  2. John says:

    This is very atypical of the bulk of the Mason series, but I enjoyed it. I gue4ss because I was so familiar with the TCV shows I was truly surprised that it was no more like a hardboiled pulp story. But of course Gardner got this start writing for pulp magazines.

    I don’t know which Mason books you’ve read in the series, Kate, but I say you ought to stick to those written in the 1930s and 1940s. The earlier Masons are, IMO, the best of the series. I find those written starting in the late 1950s and through the 1960s to be very uninspired. Some of them are just plain dull. As Gardner progressed the books came to resemble the TV series: plot twists for their own sake, obligatory courtroom scenes, confessions from the stand, etc. I can’t remember which book contains the first actual courtroom scene, but I think its not until the mid 1940s.

    JJ, you and are I are perhaps the most avowed “un-fans” of Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe among the vintage mystery bloggers. I can only take him in small doses. I lose interest in the novels quickly, but I’ve managed to enjoy most of the novellas which I started to read only this year.

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    • Well including this one I’ve only read three Mason novels. The only one not reviewed on my blog is The Case of the Missing Clock. Thanks for the tips on which Mason novels to focus on. Thankfully The Case of the Perjured Parrot is within the 1930s, so fingers crossed it will be okay. Yet to read any Stout novellas. Just got the one Wolfe novel in my TBR pile atm, which I will get round to sooner or later. It’s been there since January and it keeps getting shunted down the pile, as more interesting novels take precedence.

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    • JJ says:

      Ha, and there I was expecting to be pilloried from the off. There are a handful of books — The ‘And be a Villain’ trilogy, for instance — which I have enjoyed, but also so, so many that seem, again with the Perry Mason parallels, purely plotting to show off how grumpy Wolfe is and how snarky Archie can be to him. A majority of those I’ve read (cf. The Golden Spiders, etc) don’t even really make sense, which is the first crime you’d expect detective fiction to avoid!

      Perhaps the novellas are a good way to go. Because, y’know, I don’t already have 483 books lined up to read. Any suggestions?

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  3. Pingback: The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) by Erle Stanley Gardner | crossexaminingcrime

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