I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.
The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink – Erle Stanley Gardner, 1952
More than a couple of Perry Mason mysteries begin in restaurants. The super lawyer and his confidential assistant Della Street are just minding their own business after a long day of depositions and briefs and correspondence, when –blam! whoop! oof! – trouble finds them.
Waitress Dixie Dayton disappears from her shift, leaving behind a paycheck and a moth-eaten but still salvageable mink coat. Some brute tries to run her down in a back alley, and a mug tries to gun her down. She ends up in the hospital but she does a bunk.
Her boss, the twitchy Morris Alburg, hires Mason to find out why Dixie took her powder. Mason takes the mink in hand and finds in its lining a pawn ticket from a Seattle shop.
Through various twists, the police find out that Dixie pawned a diamond ring and more dangerously for her and Moe, a gun. Tests show the gun was the same weapon that killed a police officer in the line of duty. Dixie's boyfriend, Thomas E. Sedgwick, is the suspect-o primo in the police murder. Unusually for a Mason novel, which are pretty non-violent except for an inevitable murder, the bodies mount up. Dixie and Moe are implicated in the murder of an all-round hard-case named George Fayette. Of course, Mason takes them on as clients.
This outing abounds in the strange and unexpected.
· Not one but two strange messages are written in lipstick in a seedy hotel room.
· In the courtroom scene, Mason doubles as the counsel for the defense and a witness for the prosecution.
· One of Paul Drake’s employees turns out to be a semi-bad guy.
· The nature of Moe Alburg’s ties to organized crime figures is left unexplained.
· Not one but two witnesses possess extraordinary memory abilities.
· Uncommonly for a Mason reveal, the solution is held until the very last page.
· Dixie Dayton turns out to be an alias, and Gardner never bothers to tell her real name.
· In the startling finish, Lt. Tragg shows himself to be one bad mother- - shut your mouth! But I’m just talking about Tragg, a complicated man, so you can dig it.
Gardner’s repetitive formula has three markers: fast tempo, almost entirely dialogue, and faith that forensic science will trump human error a.k.a. procedural goofs made by police due to illogic, incompetence, and prejudice. Readers looking for descriptions of crime scenes or landscapes or explication of the characters’ personalities had better look elsewhere. Gardner’s narrative style was narrow, but he was creative and exellent at what he did.