(This post originally appeared on January 17, 2007. I've added a cover gallery of various editions below. I hope this is the last rerun for a while.)
What's a good antidote to a ponderous, over-written book like the one I was talking about in my previous post? How about a Perry Mason novel from 1940, when Mason still wore a fedora, smoked cigarettes, and didn't mind mixing it up with some tough guys if he had to? (Although there's not any real hardboiled action in this one, it does crop up from time to time in the Mason novels from this era.) Not surprisingly, in this book you get a fast pace, an incredibly complex plot, and seldom a wasted word. From the first book, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, in 1933 until about the mid-Fifties, the Mason series is consistently entertaining, at least to me.
However, THE CASE OF THE SILENT PARTNER isn't really in the top rank of Perry Mason novels. The motivating action -- the battle for control over a chain of flower shops -- isn't particularly compelling, and Gardner's writing seems a little less crisp than usual. I nearly always get confused when I'm reading a novel by Gardner because the plots are so complicated, and that was true here, too. I did spot a fairly important clue early on that Gardner kept up his sleeve until near the end of the book. There's no big courtroom scene at the end. I know they're hokey, but I like them anyway. The book is notable for being the novel that introduced the character of Lieutenant Tragg. Up to this point in the series Mason's chief antagonist on the police force had been Sergeant Holcomb of the Homicide squad. Paul Drake is mentioned but never appears on screen, and there's no Hamilton Burger at all.
Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the book, and the solution to the murder is pretty darned clever. Worth a look if you're a Perry Mason fan and haven't read this one yet, but I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for the series.
Robert McGinnis art? Dust jacket from the first edition hardback Dust jacket from the Triangle Books reprint An earlier Pocket Books edition