Thursday, August 06, 2020

Classic Mysteries: The Case of the Lonely Heiress - Erle Stanley Gardner

As I said about the Jim Hatfield novels a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never read a Perry Mason that didn’t at least entertain me. In the mood for a Mason recently, I picked up THE CASE OF THE LONELY HEIRESS from 1948 and had a grand time reading it.

This one opens with a potential client visiting Mason’s office, as so many of the books do. He’s the publisher of a somewhat shady lonely hearts magazine full of classified ads from people seeking penpals and romance, as well as having some confession-magazine-style stories in it written under house-names by the publisher himself. He’s concerned about one of the ads, since it claims to be from a young heiress looking for a man who’s not a fortune-hunter. He suspects the woman is up to no good, and he doesn’t want to be dragged into whatever her scheme is, so he hires Mason to represent his interests and get to the bottom of it.

Of course, as is usual with Perry Mason, what the novel seems to be about at first doesn’t turn out to be what’s actually going on, as Mason, Della Street, Paul Drake, and one of Drake’s operatives quickly find out when they investigate. Not surprisingly, the real mystery winds up involving the fortune the heiress is going to inherit, a last-minute will, a jealous wife, and a nude nurse who’s both blackjacked and stabbed. Mason defends the person charged with the nurse’s murder, so we get some of those always entertaining courtroom scenes full of rapid-fire dialogue and legal wrangling, although there aren’t as many of them as in some of the books. I guess Hamilton Burger was busy, because Mason’s opponent this time is an assistant DA named James Hanover. I have to say, Hanover is pretty bland compared to Burger’s usual bluster and clueless pomposity.

That’s about the only drawback in THE CASE OF THE LONELY HEIRESS, which I think is one of the better Perry Mason novels I’ve read. For one thing, it may be the funniest Perry Mason novel I’ve come across, with an overall tone that approaches screwball at times. Gardner has great fun writing his version of a confession-mag yarn when he has Mason read excerpts from the original client’s magazine. Mason and Della have a run-in with a uniformed cop that’s hilarious, especially in its outcome. The jealous wife who henpecks her hapless husband is a stereotype, but Gardner manages to make those interchanges funny. Now, admittedly, there’s a lot in this novel that might be either puzzling or offensive to younger readers today, but luckily, I’m old and don’t care. I had a great time reading this one, and if you’re a Perry Mason fan and haven’t gotten around to it yet, I recommend it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I haven’t read a Perry Mason in awhile. I’ve got about a dozen that I bought for the McGinniss covers, just sitting there on a shelf....

‘’I’m old and I don’t care’’ — I want to put that on a t-shirt. And wear it every day!