Friday, April 4, 2014

An Odd Mason Novel

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

The Case of the Sun Bather’s Dairy – Erle Stanley Gardner, 1955

A girl’s father has been wrongfully convicted of a bank heist and penned in San Quentin. The loot was never recovered. Assuming the girl knows where it’s stashed and is tapping the haul, the insurance company PI’s and LA cops take turns keeping the girl under surveillance. She knows she is being watched but that does not stop her from nude sun bathing in remote SoCal spots where she has parked her fancy trailer.

We hard-core Perry Mason fans simply sigh. We are used to opening chapters that feature “opaque raincoats” (TCO Glamorous Ghost) and “swimming nymphs” (TCO Negligent Nymph) and hitchhiking girls who "looked childish in her innocence, a platinum blonde with a poker face, wide blue eyes, thin, flawless skin and a good figure (TCO Vagabond Virgin).”

But this odd Perry Mason story provides plenty of departures from the scantily-clad norm. For one, at 230 pages, it is unusually long, with all the chapters a bit over 10 pages. Gardner stretches things out with longish passages about the routine steps in tracking down a perp, the minutiae of transporting cash in armored cars, and puzzling activity that leads to Nowheresville, contributing to neither the plot nor character development (not that Gardner was an adept in that department). Finally, in an odd preliminary hearing scene, Mason himself has to take the stand and get grilled by DA Hamilton Burger, who very kindly reminds him of his right not to incriminate himself.

If you are a hard-core Perry, Della, and Paul fan like I know I am, you will like this one despite the rather inane plot. If you are new, you should read, say, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye.

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