Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Case of the Restless Redhead: Erle Stanley Gardner

My summary of TCOT Restless Redhead:

Perry Mason is at the courthouse in Riverside to pick up some papers from Judge Dillard. While waiting, he watches a trial in progress in Dillard's courtroom. A young lawyer, Frank Neely, is defending a redheaded waitress, Evelyn Bagby, who had been arrested for theft while stranded in Corona waiting for her car to be repaired. He ends up giving some advice to Neely, which leads to the waitress being acquitted.

Evelyn had been on her way to the L.A. area to seek acting work in Hollywood. She stops by Mason's office in L.A. to thank him for the help. Evelyn has very little money and Mason helps her find a job waitressing for the time being. Very shortly she is implicated in another crime and this time it is murder.


It has been so long since I read a book in the Perry Mason series that I don't remember if this book is a typical story or how it stacks up against the others in the series (about 80 novels). I do think it is typical for Mason to take on the client before the actual murder happens, and in this book, we are nearly 1/3 of the way into the story before there is a murder. That works fine for me, I like the plot to build up to the crime and give me an overview of the characters in advance.

These are other things I noticed about this novel:

Mason must be doing pretty well financially to be able to drop all his other work to pursue justice for a waitress whose case he becomes interested in. There is no indication here that he is rich and he doesn't flaunt his status at all, but he appears to be able to take cases that appeal to him whether or not they will pay off for him financially.

He comes to the aid of a young lawyer in Riverside who has been assigned a pro bono case. The young lawyer is making rookie mistakes in the first trial and Perry Mason helps with tips and advice. This lawyer remains in the picture throughout the story, but mainly as a demonstration of Mason's generosity, in sharing both his expertise and not charging for the advice.

Mason falsifies and meddles with the evidence, but not to the extent of breaking the law (I think). I guess he walks the tightrope between doing something illegal and just bending the rules to prove a point. Of course, in the end it all comes out well for his client and District Attorney Hamilton Burger turns up looking pretty silly for not taking some precautions with the evidence and the witnesses.

There do seem to be some logical inconsistencies. Mason indicates by his actions that he thinks his client is being framed, but his advice seems to put her in obvious danger. Yet, with the fast paced action and the entertaining courtroom scene to tie the story up, the inconsistencies don't seem bothersome.

A very interesting tidbit is that The Case of the Restless Redhead was the basis for the script for the first episode of the television series.

Is this a good read? Yes. The story is fast-paced. The characters may be stereotypes but they are interesting characters regardless. The plot is intriguing, regardless of the inconsistencies. My only disappointment was that I was expecting an even better story.

However, this was mitigated for me by the fact that the first trial takes place in Riverside, California (where I lived for several years) and some of the action early in the story takes place in Corona, a city nearby. I worked for 5 years in Norco (short for North Corona), so I can picture what those areas were like in the 1950s. Corona was small townish and surrounding areas were fairly rural even in the 1970s, so in the 1950s I am sure that they were more so.

I knew that the Perry Mason series was set in Southern California, and that Mason had his offices in L.A. I did not know that Erle Stanley Gardner spent so much of his life in California. He was born in Malden, Massachusetts, but he graduated from high school in Palo Alto, California (in the San Francisco Bay area). In 1921, he joined the law firm of Sheridan, Orr, Drapeau and Gardner in Ventura, California (about 35 miles south of Santa Barbara). While working there he wrote and published a lot of short stories, and wrote his first novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, published in 1933. At that time he left the law firm and moved to Temecula, California, where he lived and wrote until he died in 1970. Temecula is in the southwestern corner of Riverside County.

This book is my selection for a 1954 book for the Crimes of the Century meme, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. Every month he designates a year and bloggers contribute a post on a crime fiction book (or film, TV, comics, or short story) published in that year. There is still time to join in for August.

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Publisher:   Pocket Book edition, 4th ed., published 1967. Orig. pub. 1954.
Length:      229 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Perry Mason
Setting:      Southern California
Genre:       Legal Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2012.

22 comments:

  1. I actually served on a jury in Riverside, we were living in Hemet at the time.

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    1. I remember Hemet too, Mac n' Janet. I used to go there a lot on weekends when I was in Riverside. Bought several pieces of "antique" furniture that I still have. I bet it has changed a lot since then.

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  2. I like the cover of the book, but won't be tracking it down. I'll read one of these one day!

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    1. There are tons of them out there, Col, at least here there are. Eighty books and that is just the Perry Mason series. Amazing.

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  3. I have to admit, Tracy, I like the title... ;-) . And you do make some really interesting observations about this novel. I hadn't thought about some of them (such as Mason's financial situation), but it makes sense. Glad you found things to like about this one.

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    1. It is a nice title, Margot, although I don't know why this redhead was restless. Now I have to try some from various decades and compare.

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  4. It's been a while since I've read a Perry Mason story. Makes me want to go to a used bookstore and see if they have any.

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    1. I bet they do, Carol, since Gardner was so prolific. Recently (relatively) I have read one of the Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mysteries and this Perry Mason mystery, and so far I like the other series better. But I will be trying more of each.

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  5. TracyK: I do not hate much in books but I get close reading about lawyers in private practice who are unconcerned about finances. Overhead, including staff costs, are significant and while a lawyer may choose to work pro bono the expenses remain to be paid. I have taken on cases that may take years before generating income but always looking at what was ongoing to keep the office going. Enough of the rant.

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    1. Bill, it is possible that the reader is supposed to assume that Mason is working on other things at the same time, and I think he did make money on this one (but could easily have not), but I did find that part of it strange. Still a fun story and fiction doesn't always have to be realistic. I do need to read more contemporary legal mysteries also, as I keep saying.

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  6. It really has been ages since I read any of these, though I had tons of them as a teeneager. I think I tend to be keener on re-reading the ones from the 1930s especially, which are a bit more hardboiled and less like the TV series in fact! Thanks Tracy

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    1. I do have several of the earlier ones and also the movies based on some of the early books, so I want to read more of those, Sergio. It was good to get back to the series after all these years.

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  7. At one time I know I read most every Perry Mason book written. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single one. Big Sigh. However, I did try to reread one a couple of years ago and couldn't get through it. However, this one, Tracy, sounds pretty good. I think I'll get a copy.

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    1. Yvette, the Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mysteries are a good bit different, and I also want to try some of the Doug Selby D.A. series. I also think that the Perry Mason books vary a good bit over the years.

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  8. I have a lot of these on the shelves, but have only read about a third of them. This review prompts me to read another. Thanks.

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    1. I don't have that many Richard, but I have enough to keep me going while I look for more.

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  9. My dad, a big fan of the series, told me Gardner used to dictate the novels into a recorder as he commuted to his office. Then he had his secretary type them up. Sounds a tad farfetched, but maybe he outlined them that way.

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    1. One of the things I read, Mathew, is that Gardner had a room full of typists and went around dictating different parts of the same book or different books (not sure which), and of course I don't know if that is true either. I am going to get a copy of a biography and I hope that sheds some light on his writing habits.

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  10. I read some of these but found them too same-y and didn't carry on with the series. Perhaps I should try another one...

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    1. I think I have read the same criticism from others, Moira, and I am sure that they often followed a formula. When I was reading them as a teenager I did not care. Probably a good reason to read them just every now and then.

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  11. Tracy, I don't think there is a single Perry Mason I didn't read in my youth. I was quite fond of Gardner's paperbacks. Read them in just one or two sittings, which is easy when you're in your teens. I occasionally read them and I'm glad they continue to hold up as well as they did first.

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    1. I wish I could remember which ones and how many I read when I was younger, Prashant. Erle Stanley Gardner creates some memorable characters.

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