Friday, October 15, 2021

62. Perry Mason Solves the Case of the Nervous Accomplice by Erle Stanley Gardner

When I was a kid, the Perry Mason TV show seemed to be on fairly regularily.  I didn't love it but would watch it on the general principle at the time to watch whatever was on TV whereever I was given the opportunity since we did not have a TV at home.  I remember vaguely being able to follow the plot and the legal twists that came up. This is the first time I have read one of the books and two things stood out me and surprised me somewhat.  

First, Perry Mason seems completely without morals and his legal ethics seem super questionable.  In this book, he gets his client to hail the same taxi she took the night before (where the driver recognized her which would put her at the scene of the murder) which investigator Paul Drake tracked via radio and then take the exact same trip at the same cost but with a new outfit and a friend to later use that to make the taxi driver look unreliable on the stand.  That can't be allowed, can it?  And the crazy thing is at that time, Mason himself wasn't convinced that his client was innocent.  It surprised me to see such a cynical take on legal procedure from the early 50s but I guess lawyers have been gaming the system since they were released on the world.

Second, Hamilton Burger, the prosecuting attorney and I guess regular foil for Mason is comically stupid and always and obviously two steps behind.  Every objection he makes he uses the same phrase "objected to as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial." Ultimately, Perry Mason does perform some clever tricks to expose the truth, but he is just so clearly superior to the opposition that it seems to steal any tension from the story.  Maybe that was intended.  

There was a dry patch before the trial started where I started to lose interest, but the initials set-up was enjoyable with some depressing sexual politics of the time thrown in. He is hired by a wife who knows her husband is having an affair. Instead of busting him, she wants Mason to help her with a scheme to turn the mistress from fantasy escape lover to annoying dependent, while she plays the positive one. It's actually probably a good strategy but depends on the woman accepting that she loves her husband or wants to keep the marriage no matter what. The ending was somewhat fun too and the solution to the murder more or less solid, though with some sketchy ballistics.  I found this in a box on my street and there was another one so I'll read that at some point.  It is unlikely I will make this series staple reading but glad to have finally been exposed to it.

On a sad note, in order to read this book I had to turn the pages, which separate them from the glue to the binding.  It always pains me and I'll try everything to give a book a chance to get another read, but this may be one paperback whose life has come to an end.

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