I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe – Erle Stanley Gardner
This 1938 mystery opens with lawyer Perry Mason having lunch with his secretary Della Street in a nice downtown department store. Della comments on the motherly benign appearance of an elderly woman apparently dining out with her niece. Perry observes that the little old lady is a shoplifter. A scene ensues whose upshot is that Perry gets the little old shoplifter off the hook because in fact she did not take the stuff out of the store.
The niece, Virginia Trent, later comes to Perry’s office for two reasons. She wants advice on how to get psychiatric help for her aunt Sarah Breel’s sudden-onset kleptomania. Gardner satirizes the psychoanalytic jargon and concepts (fixation, unconscious, etc.) that were taking the culture by storm in the thirties. Both Gardner and his creation Perry Mason were skeptics about unparsimonius explanations of human nature (more about that right here).
Virginia Trent is also concerned with legal consequences. A handful of diamonds has disappeared from her uncle’s jewelry store, perhaps ripped off by her thieving Auntie. A bon-vivant named Austin Cullens promises to get the gems back. But he ends up shot. And her aunt is hit by a car while running away from the crime scene. When wakes up, she claims she remembers nothing, but the cops charge her with murder-one anyway.
Later Virginia Trent and Perry find the body of her uncle. She becomes utterly unglued, what with the stress of her aunt’s shoplifting, missing diamonds, one dead guy, and then her uncle being snuffed and put in a packing case. Gardner is hinting that studying psychology at night school does not necessarily prepare one to meet the curveballs thrown by ace-pitcher life.
Gardner does not play fair in this one, but the plot twists are ingenious. Slow down when reading the trial sequence because there is a Trent Gun and a Breel Gun. If you are not careful, you will get as confused as Sgt. Holcomb and Goodreads reviewers who get mighty frustrated with Gardner’s hocus-pocus with two guns, two bullets, two corpses and two crime scenes.