The Case of the Howling Dog by Erle Stanley Gardner

In January I read The Case of the Curious Bride also by Gardner and was rather disappointed because I found it far-fetched and at times was at a complete loss to understand what  Perry Mason was doing and why. I wondered whether to bother reading any more of the Perry Mason books. But I had enjoyed the TV series very much years ago and I still had one more of the books to read. So, the other day I began reading The Case of the Howling Dog and was relieved when I realised that it is much better than the Curious Bride case!

The Case of the Howling Dog

Synopsis from the back cover:

A dog howled by night in the quiet of Milpas Drive, and drove Arthur Cartright crazy with terror. He begged lawyer Perry Mason to bring a warrant against its owner, who, he said, had taught the dog to howl in order to drive him mad. According to superstition the howling meant a death in the neighbourhood, and Cartright appeared to believe it.

But Mason believed that a deeper fear than superstition was impelling his client and when both the dog and its owner were killed he took up the challenge and set himself to find the murderer.

My view:

The Case of the Howling Dog was first published in 1934, the fourth Perry Mason book and inevitably it is dated, but interesting because of that. I couldn’t really see my way through all the intricacies of this case but I thought it was very entertaining and well done, and I hadn’t foreseen the twist at the end. It’s fast-paced, with just the right balance of description and dialogue.

Mason is quickly established as a lawyer who doesn’t like routine:

I want excitement. I wan to work on matters of life and death, where minutes count. I want the bizarre and the unusual. (page 21)

So at first he’s not really interested in Cartright’s problem and thinks the man is crazy. But it soon becomes obvious that there is more to the case than making a will and taking out a warrant against the dog’s owner. In fact it becomes a complicated and complex murder mystery, and involves Mason getting dangerously close to breaking the law himself; as Paul Drake, the tall detective with drooping shoulders, warns him more than once he’s skating on thin ice. Mason insists that everything he does is within his rights and he is representing a client who is entitled to a fair trial. The Deputy Attorney, Claude Drumm thought the prosecution was certain of a verdict, but he hadn’t reckoned with Mason’s tactics.

Della Street was also doubtful that Perry was doing the right thing

‘Perry Mason,’ she said. ‘I worship you. You’ve got more brains and more ability than any other man I know. You’ve done things that have been simply marvellous, and now you’re doing something that is just plain, downright injustice. (pages 114-5)

But he insists what he is doing is his duty:

It’s the function of the lawyer for the defence to see the facts in favour of the defendant are presented to the jury in the strongest possible light. …

That’s my sworn duty. That’s all I’m supposed to do. (page 115)

And at the end that is just what he does do and after the trial Della views him through starry eyes!

7 thoughts on “The Case of the Howling Dog by Erle Stanley Gardner”

  1. Is it Gardner or Stanley Gardner? Whichever, I’ve not read anything by him although as a family we used to gather round the television every week to enjoy the latest instalment of Perry Mason. If I do see anything by him in the charity shops I shall have to pick it up just to see of it is as good as this or as disappointing as your first read. I suspect that if I were to watch the television series again I would find it rather repetitive.

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    1. Alex, it is Gardner – and I too think I’d soon find the TV series repetitive. A couple of years ago I’d read The Case of the Lame Canary and
      The Case of the Substitute Face, very similar really, complicated and packed full of action, leaving me with little idea of what was going on. I’m not going to look out for any more, but they are quick reads and quite entertaining.

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  2. Very interesting review. I want to try this book and Curious Bride, so I am glad to get your take on them. I want to compare them to the old movies (loosely based on the books) that I have watched recently.

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  3. Margaret – Oh, I love that green Penguin cover! And I agree with you that some of Mason’s cases are complicated and have several twists. I have to admit I like that about them. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. One of the things your post brings up is Mason’s determination to do his best for each client. I’ve always liked it about his character that there’s a strong thread of work ethic through his personality.

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  4. “Perry Mason” was a favorite TV show of my mom’s. I remember her watching reruns daily when she was terminally ill. Thank heaven the TV version didn’t have dialogue like Della saying, “I worship you.” We would have laughed our heads off. Still Della (TV version) managed to get her feelings and opinions known. I’ve never read one of the books so this review is interesting.

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