The Case of the Careless Kitten (1942) by Erle Stanley Gardner

No more goat babies to report as of yet, but in the meantime here are my thoughts on my latest read…

The American Mystery Classic series has reprinted this title and looking online this is the synopsis they give this book:

‘Helen Kendal’s woes begin when she receives a phone call from her vanished uncle Franklin, long presumed dead, who urges her to make contact with criminal defense attorney Perry Mason; soon after, she finds herself the main suspect in the murder of an unfamiliar man. Her kitten has just survived a poisoning attempt, as has her aunt Matilda, the woman who always maintained that Franklin was alive in spite of his disappearance.

Lucky that Helen took her uncle’s advice and contacted Perry Mason–he immediately takes her as a client. But while it’s clear that all the occurrences are connected, and that their connection will prove her innocence, the links in the case are too obscure to be recognized even by the attorney’s brilliantly deductive mind. Risking disbarment for his unorthodox methods, he endeavours to outwit the police and solve the puzzle himself, enlisting the help of his secretary Della Street, his private eye Paul Drake, and the unlikely but invaluable aid of a careless but very clever kitten in the process.’

All seems reasonable enough, yet this is another review by me in which I take a synopsis to task and in this case I wonder whether the person writing it, has actually read the novel. Helen is the starting point for this book, receiving the phone call, attending to her poisoned kitten, going out to the rendezvous with Perry Mason and Della Street etc., yet after these events her presence and role in the book is very minimal. At no point, despite having a motive, is she seriously considered a suspect in the murder, in fact out of all the suspects, Lieutenant Tragg treats her the kindest. Nowhere in the book is Perry Mason trying to defend her rights or prove her innocence. His energies are very much directed elsewhere, taking on another uncle of Helen’s, as a client instead – as well having to get Della Street and himself out of a very tight corner. So I am at a loss as to why the blurb is so misleading. I wondered whether such a blurb, with its heroine in jeopardy, makes the book more marketable?

Overall Thoughts

Inaccurate blurbs aside, what did I make of the actual mystery Gardner was offering?

Most of the book takes place during an 18-hour period, so the pace is pleasingly frenetic, as more criminous events unfold, and the action never lags. Little does Perry Mason realise what he is getting into when he enthusiastically says: ‘Come on, Della, we’re on the trail of another adventure in crime.’ I think reading Gardner’s work this year, I am getting more into the grove of what his mysteries offer, as in times gone by, I have been far more lukewarm. These books are not traditional puzzle clue mysteries, as there is a great deal the reader has no hope of figuring out, but at the same time this is not a legal thriller lacking in deductions, inferences and thinking things through. The reader is encouraged to ponder certain questions and discrepancies which Perry Mason brings to our attention. Assessing known information is very much part of the narrative.

The kitten, named Amber Eyes, is deployed well within the novel, setting off the drama at the beginning and making significant appearances later, which put our sleuths in hot water, as well as provide elucidation to the mystery as a whole.

Placing Perry and Della into a difficult predicament two thirds of the way through was a good move on Gardner’s part, as the tension levels are cranked up a notch or two and propel the plot to the finish in a gripping fashion.

So all in all a good read!

Rating: 4.25/5

See also: Pot Pourri and Bev at My Reader’s Block have also reviewed this title.

19 comments

  1. I’m clearly reading too many mysteries and watching too much film noir. The words baby goats immediately made me think of ritual sacrifice!! I do think it’s interesting to explore these novels as a grown-up because they are so different from the patterned episodes of the TV series which were always standard whodunnits. Some of these are more noir adventures themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps you read the expurgated edition; I remember the goat sacrifice scenes clearly. I really do think he could have stopped at four though.

      I liked this the best of the four or five Masons I have read. Mason sails pretty close to the wind in some of these books, and it’s pretty clear Parry and Della are at it. Not the PM show I remember as a kid (even aside from goats).

      Liked by 1 person

    • What sort of mysteries are you reading, that ritual sacrifice is the first thing you think of when you see the words baby goats??? Is some sort of reading intervention needed? lol
      I have not seen the TV series so have only the books to go on. When I read some a few years ago I was much less impressed. I don’t think if my reading tastes have changed or whether I have just picked better titles by him.

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  2. I recall reading this one in my early days of thoroughly disorganised diving into the works of authors at random…and twenty years later I’m a huge Gardner fan, so something about it obviously worked for me. As to details, however, I am vague (though, y’know, the Mason books do run together a bit once you’ve read thirty of them 😄), though encouraged that you enjoyed it so much. If/when I finishe the Cool & Lam books, I’m thinking of taking on the Masons in order — all 80+ of them — so expect fuler thoughts on this one in 2037.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Gardner was instrumental in getting to me to readwider in the genre — it was probably a Cool & Lam book that I first picked up when I started looking beyond Christie. I figure I owe it to him to know what of his I’ve read, and the only way to do that is to read everything 🙂

        Plus, y’know, I would hate to run out of books any time soon…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well, as I mentioned yesterday, your evil influence has rubbed off on me, as during BITL I ordered the first Doug Selby and the Crofts you PROMISED I would like.

      Sorry, but I have to go: MUST . . . eat . . . lamb . . . chops . . . !

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  3. The blurb does sound like one written by someone who didn’t quite read it; may just a skim through.

    I enjoyed this one a lot; especially all the twists and turns, and I loved that the kitten had a role all through the book and wasn’t just there as ‘decoration’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does sound like someone who has only maybe read the first or two when Helen is more prominent and then perhaps taken a sweep of the end of the book. I also felt the kitten had a good role within the book. Not overdone but still having an impact on the plot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are quite a few of the Perry Mason books in which animals play key plot roles. It’s something Gardner did remarkably well.

        THE CASE OF THE LAME CANARY comes to mind. And of course THE CASE OF THE PERJURED PARROT.

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