Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A fine fine review by J. Kingston Pierce of Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of The Haunted Husband

By J. Kingston Pierce on March 31, 2015
My maternal grandfather is largely to blame for my interest in Erle Stanley Gardner and that California author’s best-remembered fictional creation, Los Angeles defense attorney Perry Mason. As boys, my brother and I would spend occasional nights at the home of our mother’s parents, while our own father and mother visited with their friends or dined out together. Our grandfather was a great fan of TV crime dramas, and evidently less concerned than our mother was about how television might corrupt young minds. So he let us sit with him while he watched such classic small-screen fare as Adam-12, The F.B.I., Cannon, Mannix and, of course, Perry Mason.
I didn’t realize back then how formulaic those Perry Mason episodes were. But they followed a familiar pattern: a murder takes place; an innocent person (most often a woman) is charged with the crime; and Mason (played so well by Raymond Burr) not only takes on the difficult defense of the accused, but manages in the end to convince the real killer to stand up in court and—tossing aside his or her Fifth Amendment rights—confess in a tearful or angry outburst. “I did it! And I’m glad I did!” that person might declare, much to the astonishment of District Attorney Hamilton Burger, whose haplessness somehow never lost him his high-profile job.
Not until many years later, after I’d added crime-fiction reviewing to my journalistic endeavors and begun collecting vintage mystery novels to study how the genre had evolved, did I discover that Gardner’s Mason books—at least the initial ones (he penned a total of 82!)—were rather different from the courtroom action-heavy pursuits of justice presented on the boob tube. Editor and New York City bookseller Otto Penzler got it right when he explained, in 1977’s The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crime Fighters and Other Good Guys, that “Mason’s earliest cases are straightforward, action-filled thrillers which have little to do with jurisprudence.…A considerable disdain for the law is in evidence (as in most books about private detectives, particularly in the 1930s when Mason’s recorded career began), and results are more often obtained with a punch to the mouth or a blasting revolver than by a clever deduction.”

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J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine. You can link here to previous entries in his “rediscovered reads

1 comment:

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Thanks for the kind words about my work, Ed.