Friday, July 17, 2015

Cloak & Dagger #11

The Case of the Baited Hook – Erle Stanley Gardner

This exciting murder story stars the redoubtable Perry Mason, aided and abetted by his efficient PA Della Street and canny PI Paul Drake.  Indeed, this is a familiar plot to hardcore readers of Perry Mason stories. A rich architect brings a masked woman to Mason’s office for a hastily arranged midnight meeting. He warns Mason to keep an eye on the newspapers because the architect may find himself and the woman in a vulnerable position. He also cautions against trying to find out who the masked woman is, not even allowing her to speak. Mason accepts half a $10,000 bill that has been cut in half as part of his retainer.

A parallel plot involves the financial future of an adult who was illegally adopted as a toddler. Her advocate is middle-aged Mrs. Tump, the kind forthright astute woman that Gardner must have admired since he used the archetype so often in his novels.

The action is mainly Mason interviewing evasive sneaks in offices, but Gardner makes talking, mere words, fascinating. More than usual, Gardner makes strong efforts to describe a complex stock swindle and explain a technical legal concept (law of agency) to challenge readers to keep thinking. Focusing on ideas is key in this outing. Easily bored and confused readers should stay away from this one, probably in the top five Most Complicated Mason Novels.

And there are numerous surprises. For one, Mason alludes to the aphorism ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ which appears in the Sermon on the Mount. Highly unusual in a Mason novel to see a Biblical reference. Even moreso, in his last appearance in a Mason novel, Homicide Sgt. Holcomb, consistently portrayed as a brute and booby, expresses admiration and shakes Mason’s hand:

All right Mason … I don’t like your methods.  Someday I’m going to throw you in the can, but I do appreciate good detective work when I see it and I’m enough of a copy to pull for a guy who solves crimes, even if I don’t like the way he goes about it.

This novel also places Della Street right in the thick of the action so fans of Della will be pleased. Of this six Mason novels I’ve read so far in 2015, this 1940 outings has been the best one.

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