Monday, March 2, 2015

Cloak & Dagger #5

The Case of the Careless Cupid – Erle Stanley Gardner, 1968

An affluent widow is in love with a wealthy widower. Although one of his nieces is sympathetic to the match, another niece and her opportunist boyfriend don't want rich uncle to tie the knot. Insinuations that the widow murdered her first husband are bruited about, capturing the attention of the police and an insurance company that wants its dough back, plus all the money she made from investments on that dough. Ace lawyer Perry Mason is hired by the widow to defend her on the first-degree charge that she poisoned her husband with arsenic.

This outing, the 79th and third from the last of the series, has its problems, like more than couple of Mason novels written after 1960. The prose is mechanical. The characters tend to excessive explications, which is odd since Gardner usually handled dialogue more skillfully (he dictated the novels, so he heard the dialogue). The plot is not as intricate as usual. In fact, the ease with which we can identify the perps makes this border on an inverted mystery, which his highly unusual for Gardner.

On the positive side, Gardner, as is his wont, includes strong female characters. The widow is the kind of independent-minded, self-sufficient female Gardner respected. She’s an astute investor, turning a $100K into a half-million. She’s blunt: “I like what I like and not what I'm supposed to like because of mass rating. And I very much dislike the things I don't like.” Gardner also features a real person. The female pilot that takes Della and Perry to El Paso is Pinky Brier, the first woman to become a flight and aerobatics instructor in the early 1940s.

I’d still recommend it to Mason fans but also to readers looking for a quick uncomplicated read without subplots or extraneous detail.   Perry springs into action numerous times. Watching him direct Paul Drake (his PI), his client, Della (his PA), and lead the cops on is always a kick. Gardner’s  language is simple if stiff. The interesting legal issues and thinking keep the little grey cells engaged. The story has suspense and theatrics.

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