Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cloak & Dagger RC #1

The Case of the Borrowed Brunette – Erle Stanley Gardner

The 28th Perry Mason novel was published in 1946. Shortages of housing and certain goods suggest a post-WWII setting as does the tough going of women trying to make it in a man’s world. For instance, Helen Reedley is trying to get out of a marriage in which the husband holds the economic whip hand besides being a controlling oaf. Also, working girl Eva Martell, to make a few bucks and get noticed in Hollywood, accepts a job in which she has to pose as another woman. Worried that she may be placed in vulnerable position, she and her chaperone Adelle Winters consult crack attorney Perry Mason.

The usual inevitabilities arise. A dodgy gambler turned blackmailer is found with a bullet betwixt his eyes. The cops want to pin the killing on Eva and Adelle just because they have an eyewitness report that Adelle put her gun – the murder gun - in a garbage pail. The DA’s hatchet man is out to cut Mason down to size on legal technicalities and secure the flamboyant lawyer’s disbarment. The outcome hinges on a determination of when the crime was indeed committed, not when it seems to have been committed.

But Gardner departs from the norm aplenty. Unexpectedly, familiar characters such as Della Street, Lt. Tragg, and DA Ham Burger don’t play roles. But there are many more suspects than the usual three or four, all of whom have cool retro names: Orville L. Reedley, Cora Felton, Daphne Gridley, Carlotta Tipton, Arthur Clovis and Helen Reedley. Mason and his PI Paul Drake have extensive and complicated conversations exonerating the persons of interest. 

Despite a lot of talk, this novel is one of the more exciting and entrancing outings purely on the basis of rational thinking. I mean, enthralling given the read accepts the initial premise of the impersonation, which, to my mind, often does not come off as convincing in whodunnits.

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