Friday, October 05, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Singing Skirt - Erle Stanley Gardner

I read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby books a while back, and that put me in the mood to read one of his Perry Mason novels. Now, I’m on record as claiming that the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books are his best series, but I really enjoy the Perry Mason novels, too. So I picked up THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT, originally published in 1959.

As usual, the plot is incredibly complicated and almost impossible to summarize coherently, so I won’t even try. I’ll just say it involves a beautiful singer/cigarette girl, a small town run by crooked gambling interests (complete with a corrupt chief of police—shades of countless Gold Medals from the Fifties), a runaway yacht, adultery, multiple identical revolvers (one of which is a murder weapon . . . maybe), and several tricky legal points, including one that may wind up with Perry Mason being an accessory after the fact to murder!

The actual murder doesn’t show up until almost halfway through the book, and the entire second half of the novel consists of a series of those courtroom scenes Gardner was so good at. Nobody was ever better at that rapid-fire examination and cross-examination stuff. Does the solution of the crime come out of left field? Well, short left field, just out of the shortstop’s reach, maybe. I had a pretty good idea who the real killer was and had some of the details figured out, but not all of them, by any means.

All the usual suspects are on hand, and Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake are in fine form, as are Lieutenant Tragg and poor old Hamilton Burger. There’s some nice humor here and there, as well as a few good hardboiled scenes with the gamblers and gangsters involved with the plot.

No doubt the Perry Mason books are just comfort reads for somebody like me who’s been enjoying them for more than fifty years. But THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT strikes me as one of the better ones from the late Fifties era. I had a great time reading it.

(That’s my copy in the scan. The Perry Mason novels have been reprinted many, many times, but my favorites are those small-size Pocket Books editions with the Robert McGinnis covers. Those are the ones I was buying and reading back in the Sixties . . . although the first Masons I read were library books checked out from the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning.)

1 comment:

Kurt said...

I read this one a few years ago and remember laughing out loud when Hamilton Burger pleaded with the judge not to let Mason handle the weapons because he "juggles them around and just confuses everyone!" Poor Counselor Burger!