Friday, September 2, 2016

Mount TBR #45

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 Lucky Legs – Erle Stanley Gardner

This is the third of 75 mysteries starring ace lawyer Perry Mason. Published in 1936, its settings appeal to a reader nostalgic for times when her parents and grandparents were young: cigar stores, resident hotels, soda fountains, speakeasies, and full-serve gasoline stations. The period language teaches us how to speak noir: “look common” and “know your onions.”

This is an early Mason story so various elements jar us readers used to the stride Gardner hit, say, after WWII. Della Street has not found her usual role as confidante and enabler of illegal entry and funny business with evidence. In this one, poor Della is not even taking notes while Mason grills a prospective client. Perry and PI Paul Drake’s relationship is convincingly stiff as neither knows the other well enough to establish trust. Mason as housebreaker has a set of skeleton keys he uses without thinking twice. Mason as tough guy threatens to punch difficult people. Generally speaking the prose is mechanical, even plodding at the three-quarters mark, making me wonder, “Cripes, another interrogation! Again.”

And the smoking shocked even me, a guy that doesn't see himself a post-modern puritan in this regard. Two scenes emphasize the power of watching smoke rise to assist deep thinking, which ex-smokers - like me - will remember with a combination of disgust and pleasure. David Sedaris mentions in When You are Engulfed in Flames that publishers have asked him if they could cut out references to smoking in a story they wanted to reprint. If publishers plan on doing that to Perry Mason stories, huge blacked out sections will appear in these texts.

On the upside the characterization, such as it is, strikes me as more skillful than usual because all four principles plus the two tough cops are plausible, with one villain being a wily antagonist to Mason. Also, on the upside, as far as I, having read dozens of Mason novels, am concerned, includes no courtroom scene.

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