Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Hesitant Hostess - Erle Stanley Gardner

(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.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I keep meaning to go back and catch up with some of the Masons I missed when I was racing through them - often 2 or 3 in a day - back in the early 1970s, but so far I haven't. Whenever I read Gardner these days (which isn't very often) it is more likely to be one of his short story collections or an A. A. Fair book about Cool and Lam.

I read this in July of 1973, though I'm sure I could read it today without any but the vaguest memory of the plot.

George said...

Like Jeff, I read ESG's PERRY MASON books in batches--a dozen a week. I keep meaning to go back and read the entire PERRY MASON series in order. I think I still own all of the volumes. Nice review of a 1953 book! I think some of the best PERRY MASON novels were published in the Fifties.

Richard Robinson said...

Those guys read way too fast! "Two or three a day"…"a dozen a week". Sheesh! It takes me at least a couple of days to get through one of these, as it did this one, which I liked a lot. I liked the tricks Perry and Paul pull in this one, and the way it works out. A good one, absolutely.

George said...

Rick, when you're stuck in an airport for hours you can get a lot of reading done. At the time I was reading PERRY MASON novels, I was working for a consulting company that sent me on gigs all around the country. I always had a bunch of paperbacks with me so when the plane was grounded or there was some other problem I had plenty of reading material.

Mathew Paust said...

Gotta find this one!

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Rick, I can remember when I first discovered mystery fandom in 1975-76 and was going on another binge of reading. (The first was 1971, when I read most of Christie and other British women). Checking my database, I see my memory is correct. I read:

6/7/76 Lovesey, Peter. A case of spirits
Beeding, francis. Death walks in eastrepps
Browne, douglas G. Too many cousins
6/8/76 Gardner, erle stanley. The case of the sleepwalker's niece
6/9/76 Gardner. The case of the lame canary,
Gardner. The case of the shoplifter's shoe
Sapir, Richard & murphy, warren. Created, the destroyer
Gardner. This is murder (orig. by charles j. kenny)
6/10/76 Fair, a.a. (e.s. gardner). The bigger they come
Gardner. The case of the baited hook
Gardner. Murder up my sleeve Terry Clane
Fair. Spill the jackpot
6/11/76 Blochman, lawrence g. Bombay mail
Lee, gypsy rose. The g-string murders
6/12/76 Pentecost, hugh. Cancelled in red
Gardner. The case of the empty tin
Simenon, georges. Inspector maigret and the strangled stripper (Maigret in montmartre)
Simenon Maigret hesitates

I only wish I could read that fast these days.

Richard Moore said...

I agree that the 1950s Perry Mason novels are generally excellent. Gardner drives the stories at a killer pace. Compulsively readable.

Barry Ergang said...

I was 12 when I read my first Mason novel, The Case of the Vagabond Virgin, and was instantly hooked. I immediately binged on another dozen titles in the series, after which I couldn't take another one for at least six or seven years--though during early binging I wrote a couple of my own Perry Mason stories which I haven't had copies of for decades, and which is probably a good thing.

In any event, Hesitant Hostess sounds like a good one I'll have to look for.

Shadowpdf said...

This one should show up eventually in the new editions that the American Bar Association are publishing. Hopefully soon; sounds like another good one.

One thing, though ... maybe things were different in California back in the 1950s, and I'm certainly not a lawyer, but I thought that when an attorney was assigned a case by the court he was paid by the State. Not a lot, but still paid. Who knows ...