I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.
The Case of the Stuttering Bishop – Erle Stanley Gardner, 1936
Ace lawyer Perry Mason is being forced by his secretary Della Street to deal with the mail. He is rescued by a visit from a man from Australia who claims to be a bishop. Mason suspects William Mallory from the first because he stutters, an impediment that would surely prevent a career that involved talking all the time.
The bishop has a bizarre story involving an inheritance. He says the wealthy but rotten magnate Renwold C. Brownley -- now there’s a Dickensian-Gardnerian name – broke up his own son’s marriage. He then forced his daughter-in-law, Julia Branner, to flee to Australia, where she had to put her baby girl up for adoption. Renwold C. Brownley wanted the child, his only grandchild, and hired detectives to find her. The bishop tells Mason that the dodgy PI’s have brought forward a young woman who claims to be the heir. Julia however says it’s not so. The bishop tells Mason all this on background, predicting that Julia herself will soon contact Mason.
Mason takes the case, but is dubious that he knows everything there is to know. Mason tells Paul Drake to have Mallory followed. However, after Mallory is attacked in his lodgings and recovers in hospital, he disappears on his way to embark on a ship back to Oz. Mason meets Julia to get her story straight. Then the victim is offed and it turns out to be – you got it in one -- Renwold C. Brownley. Julia as a client accused of murder one is totally uncooperative with Mason in that she won’t even tell him why she is innocent.
Any number of imposters go through their poses in this novel. It is doubtless one of the most complicated plots ever devised by Gardner, who was a master of complexity. Because the number of suspects is not large, it is fairly easy to guess the culprit, but I’ll bet the reader will still be enlightened by Perry’s reveal to Della and Paul. This is only the 9th Perry Mason novel so Mason and the DA Ham Burger have a cordial enough relationship to have a conference outside of the courtroom. Later Burger was to give no quarter, which was okay with Mason who never quailed from a fight.
Bottom line: Well worth reading for both hardcore fans and readers who may be wondering why back in the day Gardner was the best-selling mystery writer in the world.