Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Case of the Caretaker's Cat - Erle Stanley Gardner

I don’t recall which Perry Mason novel was the first in the series I read, but there’s a good chance it was in one of the short Pocket Books editions with Robert McGinnis covers, since they were all over during the early Sixties when I discovered Erle Stanley Gardner’s work. (The first thing I read by him was one of the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books, but that’s neither here nor there—although I love that series, too.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading Perry Mason novels off and on for nearly 60 years now, and I always enjoy them. I don’t always remember whether I’ve read one or not since the plots tend not to stick with me, but I’m reasonably sure I hadn’t read THE CASE OF THE CARETAKER’S CAT until now, in the 27th printing from November 1962. That’s my copy in the scan.

Originally published by William Morrow in 1935, this is the seventh novel in the series. It opens with Perry Mason deciding to take on a case where he’ll be representing a cat. You see, a wealthy man has died and left a will insuring that the caretaker of his estate will always have a job, but the caretaker has a cat and the heirs are demanding that he get rid of it. The caretaker hires Mason to prevent that from happening.

But of course, as it turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. There are multiple murders, a hurry-up marriage, a phony honeymoon, a fortune in missing diamonds, a lengthy courtroom scene in which Mason sorts everything out and exposes the real killer in highly entertaining fashion, and a final twist which (he said modestly) I figured out as soon as Gardner laid the groundwork for it. Trust me, figuring out anything ahead of time in an Erle Stanley Gardner novel is a rarity for me. But just as with the Mike Shayne novels, I enjoy knowing that Mason is three steps ahead of everybody else in the book and that far out in front of me, too.

I’m sure some people read the Perry Mason books for the plots. I read them to watch Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake interact with each other. By now they’re like very old friends to me and I thoroughly enjoy watching them at work. One thing I didn’t realize when reading Mason novels as a kid was how funny many of them are. They’re full of colorful, eccentric characters and great banter and some very dry humor here and there.

Mason also says something in this one that strikes me as important: He declares that he only practices law as a sideline. His real profession is that of adventurer. I think that really sums up the appeal of this series, especially the books from the Thirties and Forties where Mason has a slightly rougher edge. He’s always pushing the boundaries to protect his clients, but also—and equally important to him—to have fun.

And by doing that, Gardner makes sure that the reader has fun, too. I certainly do. THE CASE OF THE CARETAKER’S CAT is one of the best Perry Mason novels I’ve read. Highly recommended.


Tony said...

Great review that gives a real sense of the fun of the novel. Will look for it. I too prefer anything from the 30's and 40's--not just from Gardner--as I feel like the 'zeitgeist' was generally more hardboiled than what came later.

Dick McGee said...

The cover selection there suggests someone wasn't doing a very good job of communicating the cat's description to their art staff over the years. At least the eye candy is a little more consistent - blonde three times out of four. :)