I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2014. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written before 1960 and be from the mystery category.
I read this for E-5: Read a Book with a Detective Team. Few beat the team of Perry, Della, and Paul.
The Case of the Calendar Girl – Erle Stanley Gardner
The 57th Perry Mason novel begins by introducing us readers to George Ansley, an honest contractor. George feels lowdown at having to bribe influence peddler and extortionist Meredith Borden to call off building inspectors that are giving George’s crews a hard time. Distracted, George is involved a car accident. The gorgeous driver of the other car persuades him to drive her home, despite possible injuries. The beguiling beauty sidetracks him even more by smiling, acting fragile and helpless, showing extreme legginess and, most diverting of all, kissing him.
After beauty’s adverse effects on his better judgment wear off, he begins to fear that he's taken a legal misstep. The same night night Honest George consults Perry Mason, buttonholing him and Della Street in a restaurant. Mason wants to examine the accident scene, so they return to Borden’s estate. They get scared off by savage watchdogs and barbed wire catches threads from their clothes. As it turns out, Borden is killed about this time and the police are combing the city for witnesses and suspects. In efforts to save George from the gas chamber, Mason tracks down a couple of calendar girls – women who pose for amateur and professional photographers for ads and “art photography.”
To my mind, late Masons, say from 1958 through the Sixties, are readable but just okay. The reader has qualms. For instance, in this one, no question is raised whether or not the murder gun had fingerprints on it. Although it provides rather an interesting twist, it also seems far-fetched when Mason saves a client by throwing a party to the wolves and then takes the thrown one on as his client.
Despite the fact that Gardner’s narrative pyrotechnics always overshadowed fair play, usually we readers can forgive Mason sitting on evidence and not giving us a chance to figure the case out. In this one, the lack of fair play is harder to forgive since there is more explaining and reported speech than showing us action. Gardner’s usual narrative magic droops and it’s mildly disappointing
After 56 Mason novels, we can’t blame Gardner for trying new gimmicks, for the sake of his own sanity and ours. In this one, I don’t think the tricks and devices worked as well as they did in other late Fifties outings such as Gilded Lily (1956), Lucky Loser (1957), Daring Decoy (1957), Foot-Loose Doll (1958), and Long-Legged Models (1958).