Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mason to the Rescue

At a guess, I’d say I now own 50 percent more books than I have shelves on which to showcase them. Those that don’t fit wind up neatly packed into boxes in my perpetually toasty furnace room. They include my numerous Erle Stanley Gardner novels, about half of which are Perry Mason tales (he did, after all, pen 82 of those!), with the rest coming from his two other significant series--one about Los Angeles gumshoes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam (The Bigger They Come), which he wrote under the nom de plume A.A. Fair, the other starring small-town district attorney Douglas Selby (The D.A. Calls It Murder). Oh, and I have a few of Gardner’s standalones (such as The Clue of the Forgotten Murder) and one of his Terry McClane mysteries (Murder Up My Sleeve).

I appreciate Gardner’s complex plotting and propulsive storytelling style, so I often dip into those boxes of his work for my reading material. This practice proved recently to be a damn smart one. I had boarded a train bound south from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, with three books in my bags. The first two were new or forthcoming novels, about which I thought to write for either The Rap Sheet or Kirkus Reviews. The third was Gardner’s 1941 Mason outing, The Case of the Haunted Husband. It was a four-hour train ride, so I settled down initially with one of the new works, figuring to polish off at least most of it before arriving in the Beaver State. However, after reading 100 pages, I’d had quite enough, and turned to the second new novel … which was a product of the same publishing imprint … and which I also decided wasn’t worth my time. (I won’t say what the imprint was, but may have to be more wary of it in the future.)

Finally, I picked up The Case of the Haunted Husband. And the next thing I knew, I’d reached my destination, oblivious to the miles passed and cozily wrapped in the world of attorney Mason, his ever-protective secretary, Della Street, and their private-eye colleague, Paul Drake. The Case of the Haunted Husband, Gardner’s 18th Mason novel, was one I hadn’t read before, and I enjoyed it immensely--enough so, that I made it the focus of my new Kirkus Reviews column.

By the way, this is the latest entry in my all-too-occasional “rediscovered reads” series for Kirkus.

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