Friday, August 23, 2019
Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Beautiful Beggar, a Perry Mason mystery
It didn’t take a Perry Mason to figure out the book had never been read. The pages were too clean and some of them were stuck together at the edges the way they will in some brand new books.
The collection was marked $1 – a deal too good to pass up.
Erle Stanley Gardner’s simple, direct writing style, his twisty plots and his fictional lawyer’s quick thinking and sometimes questionable actions are always a pleasure to read.
The last novel in this Perry Mason collection was The Case of the Beautiful Beggar, from 1965.
In it, a 22-year-old woman returning to Los Angeles after a three-month trip abroad, finds the wealthy and elderly uncle she lived with all her life has been forced into a sanitarium by relatives. The uncle’s greedy half-brother is now the conservator of the uncle’s estate by order of a local court.
The woman turns to Perry Mason for help. She knows her uncle is not senile or violent, as the relatives claim. The relatives are out for his money.
Having a person committed against his will to a prison-like hospital is a plot device I seem to recall Gardner using before, and the Perry Mason television show of the 1950s and ’60s used it several times. In fact, the plot of this story is nearly identical to one of those episodes. Gardner’s original stories were often adapted for the series.
Although all the Perry Mason novels are breezy and light, this one seemed even lighter than usual, and a little thin. There were fewer characters – fewer suspects – involved than in earlier Mason books. The author also padded the page count by repeating himself unnecessarily, going over the same elements of the story several times, when the events were not that complicated or hard to remember.
This story could have been set in one of the previous decades – which is part of the charm of the Mason novels. But the character of a young woman in 1965 was out of step with the times. She did not have to be a hipster from Haight-Ashbury or Carnaby Street, but even the most strait-laced girl of that era would not be as square and old-fashioned as this character.
Still, the Gardner style was on display and the crafty maneuvering of Perry Mason was fun to read and exciting to anticipate, especially in the early chapters – like the lawyer’s moves to have a large check cashed for his client.
All the usual characters appear in the book: Della Street, Mason’s confidential secretary, Paul Drake, the head of a private investigation company, Detective Lieutenant Arthur Tragg of the Los Angeles Police Department, and L.A. District Attorney Hamilton Burger, who Gardner (and the TV show) were always careful to refer to by the character’s full name, in order to avoid the comical nick-name, Ham Burger.
(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)
(Also, please check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)