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!

The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner

First published in 1935 The Case of the Curious Bride is the 5th Perry Mason book by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Synopsis extracted from the back cover:

An attractive young woman calls at Perry Mason’s office to inquire if a friend can marry again without getting a divorce as her husband had been presumed killed in an air accident seven years previously. Mason sees sinister implications and as a result of his investigations – helped by his secretary Della Street – dramatic developments lead to a court case in which the tables are turned on the police.

My view:

There are plenty of twists and turns in this mystery surrounding Rhoda Montaine, who is accused of murder and it certainly looks as though she is guilty.  I found it very puzzling. I also thought it was unsatisfactory as Perry Mason resorts to trickery, fooling everyone. At times I was at a complete loss to understand what he was doing and why. It all becomes clear at the end, but I found it far-fetched.

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Penguin Books 1960 (first published by Cassell 1935)
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating 2/5
  • Challenges: Mount TBR, What’s in a Name 6 (a book with an emotion in the title)

The Case of the Lame Canary by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Case of the Lame Canary was originally published in 1937. My copy is a Penguin green and white reprint of 1961. At that date Erle Stanley Gardner was in his sixties and was one of the world’s best-selling mystery writers. He had given up his career as a lawyer in California in 1935 and had taken a log cabin in the mountains to write his books full-time.

Perry Mason specialises in murder cases so when Rita Swaine arrives at his office with a tale of her sister’s matrimonial problems he isn’t interested. However, he is interested in the caged canary she has carried into his office, because it has a lame foot and he wants to know why it’s lame and why she brought it with her.

Rita tells him a complicated tale, which persuades Perry to represent her sister. Her sister Rosalind is married to Walter Prescott, but is still in love with Jimmy Driscoll, Walter had found out and threatened to kill her and so Rosalind had left and then asked her to get her things and the canary. Walter is later found murdered and the story gets even more complicated, especially as Rita just doesn’t tell Perry the truth. It appears that all three – Rita, Rosalind and Jimmy could have killed Walter.

Perry enlists Paul Drake’s help and together they ferret out yet more information – at times it felt like information overload and no clear way through to discover who killed Walter and why. And yet there is more because towards the end Perry says to his secretary, Della Street

… a solution of any crime which doesn’t account for all of the various factors involved is no solution at all. No, I’ve paid too much attention to the people the district attorney’s office suspect, and not enough to the victim. In the long run, Della, the essence of all successful detective work lies in reconstructing the life of the victim. That gives motivation, and motivation makes murders. (page 185)

There was no way I was able to work it all out, until almost the end and yet all the clues are there just so cleverly concealed within the text – and the lame canary does have a part to play!

Perry Mason acts more as a detective than a lawyer and works independently of the police to protect his clients, but he also has a very human side. Della, is anxious that he has a holiday and has planned a long trip around the world for the two of them. She’s booked their tickets and as the case gets more and more complicated she continues to urge him to start packing his things. In the end they just make it on board and they sail away. The book ends on a romantic scene as the other passengers watch:

… the tall, distinguished man, accompanied by the capable, good-looking young woman, parading around the deck, as though it were a ceremonial march, and, as they walked, whistling Hawaiian Paradise. (page 224)

A satisfying read and one I might read again, if only to see how it was all put together.

Crime Fiction Alphabet – G is for …

… Erle Stanley Gardner

I was wondering what to choose to illustrate the letter G in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet, but as I was writing how I began reading crime fiction I realised that it had to be Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. My introduction to Gardner’s books was the TV series with Raymond Burr as Perry Mason.

Gardner was born in  1889 and practised as a lawyer in California. He began writing detective fiction and gave up his practice in 1933, after publishing The Case of the Velvet Claws. He wrote under numerous pseudonyms, writing non-fiction as well as fiction. He died in 1970.

All his detective novels have a legal background, most reaching a climax in a court scene. In the Perry Mason novels (I haven’t read any of his other books) Mason is a lawyer-cum-detective who achieved fantastic results by using his legal knowledge together with fast talk, bluff and double bluff.

I have two Perry Mason books, The Case of the Lame Canary and The Case of the Substitute Face,  published by Penguin Books in green and white paperbacks. This description of the latter, first published in 1938, is taken from the back cover:

C Walker Moar used to be a book-keeper to the Product Refining company, Los Angeles: then one day he walked out and the office missed twenty-five thousand dollars. Mrs Moar sought Perry Mason’s help on a journey from Honolulu to the United States mainland, and Perry got to know the other travellers – their pretty daughter Belle, two other girls, a man with a broken neck, and a millionaire. Then things started to happen – a storm, a murder, a man washed overboard, and an accusation that launched the lawyer-detective into battle as soon as the ship docked. Bluffing, threatening, and fighting with a typical disregard for the niceties of the law, he rushes his adversaries onward to a brilliant cross-examination and the dramatic end of the story.

As I expected this book is fast-paced with lots of action and as I was reading it I had difficulty in solving the mystery as Perry Mason switches from one tack to another as the case progressed. I loved recalling what were once familiar characters – Mason himself, powerful, confident, who works hard to get to the truth and to defend his clients. At one point in this book, it seems to Paul Drake as if he’s ‘going off half-cocked’ and Della Street explains that it’s no use arguing with him because

His mental system is deficient in mystery vitamins, and fighting calories, and he’s out to balance his diet once and all. (page 71)

Paul Drake, who runs his own Private Detective Agency is on hand to help Mason, together with Della Street, Mason’s secretary. Although the other characters are described in detail there is little physical description of the main characters, which leaves me free to visualise them as I remember them from the TV series. The relationship between Perry and Della is most interesting and he obviously wants to move on from employer/employee but at the end Della protests:

Let’s not get too sentimental. You know as well as I do that you’d hate a home if you had one. You’re a stormy petrel flying from one murder case to another. If you had a wife you’d put her in a fine home – and leave her there. You don’t want a wife. But you do need a secretary who can take chances with you – and you have another case waiting in Los Angeles. (page 222)

A most enjoyable book.