I grew up as a Navy brat. Until I was 16, my family moved at least every two or three years. One reason I like mysteries is that no matter where we moved, the library would always have some Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie. Because of that, I could count on finding familiar friends no matter where we ended up. But I never once tried any of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books.
This past week, I corrected that omission. I started with book 1, The Case of the Velvet Claws and am now reading book 6, The Case of the Counterfeit Eye. I am particular about series; I want to start with book one rather then start in the middle.
These books are not terribly long (and I read very quickly.) But I am having a blast with them. The book Perry is much more fun than the series Perry. I enjoyed Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason as much as the next person, but the Perry Mason in the books is more active, takes chances and comes up with wild ideas that protect a client only in fiction.
A fair warning if you want to try these books—the first books were written in 1933, 1934, and 1935. Several of them began as serial publications over months before the story was compiled into a book. The books are true to the era they were written. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, politically correct. Characters (not Perry, of course) use certain ethnic names that are not acceptable now and the status of women is beyond unrecognizable. In the 1930s, and in the hard-boiled style of Gardner’s writing, women are “Janes” if the speaker doesn’t know who the woman is, and quite often called “girls.” So, in one scene, Perry calls Della Street, his fanatically loyal secretary, “good girl” when she does something particularly clever. The idea of men hitting on women in the workplace or elsewhere (again, never Perry) is not wrong but expected.
That being said, and if you remember when they were written, the books are terrific romps and a lot of fun. I am curious to see how their tone changes as the series advances. The last Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason books were published posthumously in the 1970s. A lot changed in the almost 40 years that Gardner kept the series going.
What series have you meant to try but haven’t reached yet? Why not try them and see what happens?