The Case of the Velvet Claws (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1933)

I think this is the first Perry Mason novel. You really wouldn’t know it — they’re all remarkably consistently written.

A woman married to the secret owner of a scandal magazine is caught out on a date with a prominent politician. Before much comes of that, her husband is shot to death. The woman thinks she did it herself and so tries to shift the blame alternately onto the politician and to Perry Mason but ultimately is arrested herself. Mason’s work isn’t done: he goes on to prove that, while she did shoot at her husband, she didn’t even hit him. He was shot moments later by his nephew, who stood to inherit his estate.

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The Case of the Horrified Heirs (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1964)

Virginia Baxter finds herself framed for the murder of Lauretta Trent, a wealthy woman who was poisoned on three occasions, but evidently died when Virginia’s car pushed hers off a cliff and into the ocean.

The reveal didn’t sit with me and I soon realized that it was because none of the clues dropped had anything to do with it. To name the biggest, the man who calls himself George Menard refers to her as “Mrs. Baxter”, despite that fact that she’s estranged from her husband and goes professionally as “Miss Baxter”. Nobody should know she’s married, yet this man does. Doesn’t factor into the solution at all, nor does anything else. The brothers ending feels like a cop-out.

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The Case of the Fugitive Nurse (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1954)

A woman arrives at Perry Mason’s office with tax troubles. Specifically, her husband — a very successful doctor — has embezzled about $100,000 and has it in the safe in the apartment he meets his mistress in. The doctor, though, turns up dead — his plane crashed, body burned beyond recognition — and it looks like his wife poisoned him. Can Perry Mason clear his client?

The heart of the matter — that the body wasn’t that of the doctor and the real doctor has started a new life with his mistress — I had figured out from the very start. Now, who the body is of who did the poisoning, that was a murky situation, but it’s a sideshow to the main event.

The Case of the Amorous Aunt (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1963)

Lorraine Elmore, frustrated late middle aged single in a small Massachusetts town, enters into a long distance relationship with Montrose Dewitt, a dashing and mysterious man with an eye patch. She is soon headed out to California to marry him. On her heals is her niece, Linda Calhoun, who is sure this Dewitt fellow means no good: Lorraine, in addition to being single, is also rather wealthy. With Linda is her fiance, George Latty, who’s a mooch. He has zero income of his own and currently lives on an allowance from Linda. He much depends on inheriting Lorraine’s wealth.

At the motel on their way to a quickie wedding, Montrose is found dead and their roll — about $50,000 — is gone. Lorraine’s story doesn’t line up with the physical evidence in the slightest. George is acting awfully guilty.

This wasn’t especially hard to solve. Montrose is a conman — that’s evident. Lorraine did see him bludgeoned to death out in the desert, but that was an act. It was part of the plot to get her out of the way to get the money. He had to have had an accomplice. Who? First thought was George, but he didn’t fit. Enter Montrose’s roommate who swears he had two eyes but yet met Montrose with Lorraine and made no comment on the eye patch. Roommate simply got a bit greedy and decided he’d get a 100% share if Montrose really died. The motel rooms were torn apart because, unfortunately for them, George had overheard and snatched the money from its hiding place himself while they were out.

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The Case of the One-Eyed Witness (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1950)

This is a book that didn’t make a whole lot of sense before the reveal, and really didn’t make much more after it. There’s a gang of baby traffickers who buy illegitimate children and sell them to infertile couples. That’s not the end of the scam, though: they then “coincidentally” get the couple to meet a salesgirl at this one specific nightclub who has a sob story about her baby being stolen, but far worse than that, she has an infinitesimal amount of Japanese blood in her. So the couples are blackmailed to prevent their baby’s 1/128th Japanese heritage being known and ruining their lives forever.

There are a few murders, disappearances, maybe a kidnapping, one of the murdered guys comes back to life, and it’s all just a glorious mess.

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The Case of the Long-Legged Models (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1957)

I’m pretty sure I’ve read this once aeons ago. I couldn’t remember anything specific about it, but I was getting feelings of deja vu, especially in the courtroom. Of course, that might just be because Perry Mason started getting super formulaic near the end — I might have just read an identical story with the names changed.

A syndicate is trying to buy out a small motel casino in Las Vegas and build a large resort. Three shareholders have sold but the other two are holding out for a better price. The racketeer trying to buy them out finds himself shot to death. Notable for most of the novel being immaterial to the case, which resolves itself rather suddenly when a witness for the prosecution inexplicably breaks down on the stand and confesses to the crime.

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The Case of the Silent Partner (Erle Stanley Gardner, 1940)

Harry Peavis, flower mogul, wants to acquire the Faulkners’ small chain of florist shops. The obvious way to accomplish this is through Bob Lawley, the gambling husband of the elder Faulkner sister. At a nightclub in town, the Golden Horn, there’s also an underground casino run by Lynk. Lawley will risk the stocks, Lynk will win, and Peavis will buy them. It all goes to plan until Lynk is shot to death and Lawley disappears.

Too easy, The glue on the package being at least four days old cinches the case at once and leaves only one possible suspect. Even ignoring it, the drugged candies are suspect, given that they were drugged with a sedative rather than a poison, and that the dose ingested was enough to knock you good and out for a few days, but well short of being fatal. It reeks of a manufactured alibi.

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