(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on December 31, 2007. I'll probably be in rerun mode for the next few weeks, as most of my time is going to be taken up with research reading for a couple of projects, but I'll make them posts from the early days of the blog in the hope that they'll be new to some of you.)
This novel from 1953 is different in several respects from the usual Perry Mason yarn. For one thing, the trial in which Mason is involved is already underway when the book begins. For another, he’s defending a client on an armed robbery charge, rather than trying to save him from a murder rap. And finally, he’s working on this case pro bono, having had it assigned to him by the judge.
If you’ve read very much by Erle Stanley Gardner, though, you know that things won’t stay that simple. Mason’s client is charged with yanking open the door of a car stopped at a red light and robbing the couple in the car at gunpoint. But before you know it, the case involves a chain of successful nightclubs, beautiful hostesses who are little better than prostitutes, a model who winds up with a garrotte around her neck, a shady gambling ring, possibly crooked cops, a cutthroat assistant district attorney and a flying trip to Las Vegas, where, the gossip mavens report, the noted lawyer Perry Mason has eloped with his beautiful secretary Della Street.
This book barely pauses to take a breath. As usual, Gardner packs a lot of story into a fairly short amount of time. There are two long, very effective courtroom scenes, and Mason races around and even throws a punch or two in some hardboiled action reminscent of the early novels in the series. In the end, the plot is relatively easy to figure out, but Gardner is having so much fun it doesn’t matter. THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS is one of the best Perry Mason novels I’ve read.