The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Dead Body

The Case of the Perjured Parrot

This story opens with the joys or rather the pains of having to do administrative tasks within the workplace, as Della Street manages to finally get Perry Mason to attend to some of the letters which have been piling up. However he is not made to suffer for long as a new client called Charles Sabin arrives. His multi-millionaire father, Fremont, has recently been murdered in his remote mountain cabin, his pet parrot seemingly the only witness. The killer appears to have a soft spot for animals, leaving food and water. But Charles is only interested in Mason defending his right to control his father’s estate, rather than his step-mother, Helen, who he says his father regretted marrying. One interesting point emerges at this point: the parrot in the cabin is not the one which was Fremont’s pet. Why has someone made a substitution? Very soon into the case whilst the Sabins are quarrelling over money, Mason comes across an unexpected person in the case; a librarian named Helen Monteith and her story seems to give a new complexion to the sort of man the victim was. This is a case full of questionable marriages and forgeries, as well as a parrot who repeats a very incriminating sentence: ‘Put down that gun, Helen! Don’t shoot […] you’ve shot me.’

Overall Thoughts

Despite the initial unusual setup this was an average/ okay read for me. A problem I often have with Gardner’s work is that I can’t get attached to the characters. The pace though was by and large good, though unfortunately the heady and hectic pace of the first three quarters of novel made the coroner’s inquest in the final quarter painfully slow. In some ways it felt like page filler, with a lot of information being repetitive, before the solution appears and consequently this solution though very good and clever, loses dramatic impact. Post solution though there is a further twist to end the tale which was enjoyable. Having read three Gardner novels now I am wondering whether when reading these books there is a conscious feeling of a formula being used. I guess if it is a formula you love then you probably don’t mind this, but for me it takes time to get into the milieu of Mason’s world, to an extent. Maybe this means I am more conscious of the formula going on because it is not a one I am naturally drawn to, as I know I am a sucker for a country house mystery, a subgenre which has a formula of its own, but when reading such works I am not paying as much attention to the fact a formula is taking place. Does this make sense? Do other people feel like this or am I just the weird one?

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One section of the book which interested me a lot is when Mason delivers this slightly long speech:

‘I’ve mentioned before, when people get fixed beliefs, they interpret everything in the light of those beliefs. Take politics, for instance. We can look back at past events, and the deadly significance of those events seems so plain that we don’t see how people could possibly have overlooked them. Yet millions of voters, at the time, saw those facts and warped their significance so that they supported erroneous political beliefs. The same is true of things which are happening at present. A few years from now we’ll look back in wonder that people failed to see the deadly significance of signs on the political horizon. Twenty years from now even the most stupid high school student can appreciate the importance of those signs and the results which must inevitably have followed. But right now we have some twenty million voters who think one way, and some twenty-five million voters who think another. And both sides believe they’re correctly interpreting the facts.’

The way such sentiments chime into today’s political climate hugely struck me and also reminded me of how cyclical human history is.

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If you are someone who has likes mystery fiction with an American legal milieu or have enjoyed Gardner novels in the past then I think this book will probably be a more enjoyable read for you than it was for me. It’s not a bad novel. Definitely read poorer works this month, but Gardner just doesn’t knock my socks off as much as I would like him to.

Rating: 3.75

See also:

The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933)

The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954)


  1. I loved Gardner when I was much younger, so much I acquired every single Perry Mason, which I read and re-read. I found other mysteries to read and other authors to follow. When I read a couple of the Mason mysteries again recently, I found they didn’t speak to me in quite the same way. I still love the plots, they are cleverly developed, but I don’t find myself wanting to re-read them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t you know about the wheel, Kate??? Ask JJ! You’re not crazy thinking there’s a formula.

    I have The Case of the Buried Clock sitting on my bedside table for Rich’s year salute to ’43. I hope I can get to it!

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  3. Hey, Gardner’s plots may have developed along similar lines a lot of the times, but that doesn’t mean there’s a formula unless the use of the plot wheels itself is formlaic (thinking, thinking…okay, I’ll come back to this another time). I’ve always enjoyed the breeziness of his style, and love a great many of the legal twists he manages to throw in — seriously, this guy really knew his stuff — but upon learning that he wrote his books by incorporating elements determined by, to all effects, the roll of a die, I ‘ve come to appreciate his structure even more.

    But, yeah, he won’t be for everyone, since he keeps in a fairly similar milieu and this can start to feel unadventurous (which I prefer to ‘formulaic’ in Gardner’s case). Possibly the ultimate measure of his writing is that I’m not completely sure whether or not I’ve read this one, so there will be no argument from me that the books can run together a bit, which I guess becomes a problem for amny people. Still bloody good fun, though.

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    • How about the word pattern? Is that term somewhere between wheel and formula? I just think there is something I am not getting from Gardner’s work that massive fans of his do get. Part of me wonders whether his stories are more suited to film or TV than the written page. The courtroom scene which I had an issue with and in another of his books could well come across better on screen.


      • I wonder if Garnder’s stuff works better ‘in person’ — that is, as opposed to on the page — because he would have encountered so much actual lawyering in his life that he has a good sense of what works in court, and getting that verisimilitude across written down leads to communication (or perhaps portrayal) issues.

        Dunno. I know that what I enjoy most about him is the fact that it’s just fun watching his mind connect up the dots that his plotting wheels threw down, even if it is only a short hop-step-jump from there to Georgette Heyer having her husband come up with her plots…

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  4. I confess to never having read Gardener, even though I have come across his books countless times on my second hand book crawls. I see you rated Velvet Claws higher, and am I right in saying thats because you could get behind the characters a little more?

    Shame that you say this fizzles out, as the set up sounds great!

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    • Can’t really remember much about the Velvet claws now. Problem of reading too much. His characterisation is always a bit on the light side for me, but he can come up with some interesting puzzles. Though I am probably not the best person for giving advice on what Gardner books to try. JJ has probably read more of his work than I have.

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  5. Sorry to hear that the picks for this month haven’t been especially strong; but at least you got to read ‘Cold Blood’? I bought it off the back of your review. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to your coming review, as it would help me decide whether or not to purchase it. The British Library has a few interesting titles coming up!

    Liked by 1 person

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