Monday, May 12, 2014

Mount TBR #6

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

The Case of the Grinning Gorilla - Erle Stanley Gardner, 1952

At an auction, Perry Mason coughs up five bucks ($8.79 in 2014 dollars) in order to buy the diaries of Helen Cadmus, a young woman girl who, the authorities have concluded, either was washed overboard or committed suicide on a yacht excursion. Whatever famed lawyer Perry Mason does, mind, is noticed by the celeb-obsessed citizens and hustlers of L.A. Soon after, in a vivid scene with a believable interview, an obvious crook Nathan Fallon visits Mason. Fallon claims that he is a distant relative of Cadmus and wants her diaries to protect the poor dear girl’s reputation. He offers Mason big bucks for the diaries on the behalf of Helen’s employer, millionaire Benjamin Addicks.  His curiosity quickened, Mason refuses the offer.

Mason has his private investigator, Paul Drake, look into the background of the allegedly eccentric Addicks. In a curious wrinkle, Addicks seems like a mad scientist. Who but a mad scientist would conduct brain research that involves the use of apes, chimps, and gorillas as test subjects?

Perry Mason and his loyal secretary Della Street end up paying a visit to Addicks’ creepy and heavily-guarded mansion. In a scene right out of the pulps (when Gardner cut his writer’s teeth), Mason has a spine-tingling confrontation with a gorilla. He also finds Addicks, stabbed to death. Mason ends up defending Josephine Kempton, the former housekeeper of Addicks. She is a typical exasperating Mason client in that she figures that withholding damning information from her defense attorney is not really and truly lying.

Three elements distinguish this Mason story from the books Gardner wrote in the Fifties. 
First, the pulpy action, settings, and antsy ambiance were hinted at above. Second, in the climax in two characters attempt to murder Perry Mason, which is unusual since Gardner usually kept violence off stage. Third, Gardner seldom went beyond the usual motivations of love, hate, lust, and greed. Though Gardner typically keeps characterization at minimum, Benjamin Addicks is a tangled mad scientist. He reportedly conducts psychological experiments with gorillas because he has committed a murder many years before and wants to understand the roots of this despicable act, to make peace with himself.

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