Mar 012015
A good reminder, from Today in Mystery History:
March 1, 1933. On this date The Case of the Velvet Claws was published. Erle Stanley Gardner had been writing stories and novellas at an amazing rate, mostly for Black Mask Magazine, trying to earn enough money to drop being a lawyer and go full-time as an author. It took another lawyer to help him out: the fictional but wildly successful Perry Mason, who premiered in this book. 75 novels and a hit TV show followed.
READ MORE:The Best TV Crime Drama Openers, #9: Perry Mason,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).
Feb 202015
Paperback 861: Pocket Books 4527 (8th ptg, 1963)

Title: The Case of the Cautious Coquette
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Cover artist: [Robert McGinnis]

Yours for: $10-12


Best things about this cover:
  • Here's the thing about McGinnis women: dead eyes. They freak me out a level at the face level. At a certain other level (Not Pictured), I find them delightful. So, in short, this cover does little for me from a Great Girl Art perspective.
  • From a Holy Crap Pink perspective, it's quite arresting.
  • Also, from a hair perspective.
  • Also, with the exception of a small tear on the back cover, this book is in like-new condition. Shiny and crisp. The pink is a pure '50s variety rarely seen in the wilds of today.
  • Also, a "Girls With Guns" cover is a "Girls With Guns Cover"—I'll take it. Check out these other covers of the same title:

[Whoa!!! Winner]

And now today's back cover:


Best things about this back cover:

  • Tire tracks! That's a pretty damned good design element, especially as a way of introducing the idea of a "hit-and-run."
  • This is the last time in U.S. history that "$100.00!!" was presented as a compelling figure.
  • Della goes next-level with her wordplay banter (from metaphorical "angles" to literal "curves"). And then the cover copy brings the imagery full circle back to the tire tracks. Well done, everyone.

Page 123~

"Della, run out and scout the corridor. Let me know if it's clear."

In case you were wondering who the badass was in this little relationship.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Dec 312014
Paperback 846: Pocket Books 4604 (1st ptg, 1963)

Title: Bachelors Get Lonely
Author: A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
Cover artist: photo cover

Estimated value: $10-15


Best things about this cover:

  • I can confirm the basic premise of this title.
  • I find this cover oddly sexy, if wildly implausible.
  • Pink. I dig it. At least it's different.


Best things about this back cover:

  • You had me at "Stripper Daffidill (sic!?) Lawson"
  • What an odd photo choice. Random stock photo, faded and blued.
  • Lam's pretty light-hearted for someone trying to catch a murderous voyeur.
  • "Swell."

Page 123~

"The walls are terribly thin," she whispered. "People will know that … that I'm having a visitor."


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Aug 242014
SHORT STORIES was a great adventure pulp, and this issue is especially noteworthy because it featured not just one but two of the authors who were dubbed "King of the Pulps" at one time or another: Erle Stanley Gardner and H. Bedford-Jones. They're also two big favorites of mine. There's also an installment of a Halfaday Creek serial by James B. Hendryx and stories by S. Omar Barker, Hapsburg
Jul 202014
We've got an actual cliffhanger cover on this issue of TOP-NOTCH, illustrating a story by Erle Stanley Gardner, the only author in this particular issue whose name I recognize. But I suspect the other stories were entertaining anyway, as I've read a number of stories originally published in TOP-NOTCH that were good. I haven't read any of Gardner's Speed Dash stories, but I ought to.
Jan 142014

I am reminded, unavoidably, of the infamous and surely invented anecdote about young George Washington cutting down the cherry tree - you remember, young George supposedly tells his father, "I cannot tell a lie." It comes to mind, as I write about Erle Stanley Gardner's , the very first Perry Mason mystery, written in 1933 - because Mason finds himself saddled with a client of whom the exact opposite is true: quite simply, she cannot tell the truth. Ever. At all. About anything. As you might expect, this leads to some very interesting complications. The Case of the Velvet Claws is our book today on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.

If your idea of Perry Mason is based only on the excellent long-running television series starring Raymond Burr, you'll find a much rougher, down-to-earth Perry Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws as well as several other early Mason mysteries. But one thing is clear right from the outset of this first Perry Mason novel: Mason regards himself as a champion of the underdog, and he believes he owes his client his loyalty and his absolute best efforts to resolve that client's problems with the law.

In The Case of the Velvet Claws, a woman comes to Perry Mason's office to hire him. She wants him to prevent a story from being published in a scandal and gossip sheet that is actually the cover for a blackmailing operation. Mason quickly learns that the woman is being anything but straightforward and honest with him. And when the man who is behind that blackmailing operation is murdered, Mason finds himself on the run and suspected of murder – a murder that his client may well have committed herself. Despite the fact that his client appears to be incapable of making a true statement about anything, Mason continues to represent her and fight for her rights to the best of his ability…even as he finds himself staying one step ahead of the police, who appear to be ready to arrest him.

This earliest Perry Mason story has a great many elements which make it fit into a "noir" sub-genre; there are remarkably few people Mason (or the reader) can trust. Happy endings are pretty scarce on the ground here. And it should be noted that there are no courtroom scenes in this book - another difference from the later Perry Mason books and television dramas.

But it is a very good book indeed, and it gives the reader some excellent insight into one of America's most popular lawyer-detectives, and his passionate defense of his clients. ALL of his clients, whether they can tell the truth or not. It's available again now as an ebook and it's very much worth your reading pleasure.

Dec 062013
Paperback 725: Pocket Books 909 (1st ptg, 1952)

Title: TCOT the Lazy Lover
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Cover artist: Clyde Ross

Yours for: $7


Best things about this cover:
  • That dude has my ultimate respect. That is some top-notch lazy. Superfly PJs. Highball. Slippers. Smart green couch. He knows what he's doing.
  • That look in her eye is not lust. It's not annoyance. It's jealousy. Jealousy of his Red Hot Lazy.
  • I can't stop looking at her boobs, and yet I don't find them very interesting. What the hell?


Best things about this back cover:
  • That "Gossip … / and Murder!" heading would look great on a t-shirt.
  • Hmmm. I'm not sure we have the same definition of "crazy punchline."
  • What does it mean to be "lazy about making love"? I'm quite sure the images in my head do not match whatever happens in this book.

Page 123~

Mason took the pass Lieutenant Tragg scribbled, and went over to the detention ward. After a ten minute wait, he was taken in to see Mrs. Allred, who had quite evidently been aroused from a sound sleep and had had no opportunity to put on her make-up.

Wow. That must've been really hard on Mason.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Oct 262013
Paperback 715: Cardinal C-379 (1st ptg, 1959)

Title: The Case of the Perjured Parrot
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Cover artist: Ric Grasso

Yours for: $8


Best things about this back cover:
  • Woman distraught over loss of parrot attempts suicide by costume jewelry, gets tired, quits.
  • "Maybe if I just lean here sultrily, my parrot will just fly back in the window."
  • I unironically love her dress.


Best things about this back cover:
  • Wait, I can't see Perry, WHERE'S PERRY!? Oh, there he is. Phew. Thanks, Giant Red Arrow.
  • Not often you see the phrase "collection of guns at the public library." At least not where I'm from.
  • Remember when people watched scripted television on Saturdays!? Good times.

Page 123~

"You're putting me in a very difficult position, Mason," Bolding said irritably.
Mason's voice showed surprise. "I am? Why, I thought you'd put yourself in it."

Perry Mason, Smug Dickhead-at-Law


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

P.S. This is one of 97 paperbacks I bought yesterday at the University Book Sale. "Bingeing" doesn't really get at it.

Oct 242013
I don't remember the first book I read by Erle Stanley Gardner, which is sort of surprising considering all the other first books by various authors I recall. It may well have been SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS, one of his Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mysteries written under the name A.A. Fair. I know I remember checking that one out from the bookmobile, so that was almost 50 years ago. I checked out other A.A. Fair books, as well as a number of Perry Mason novels, from the bookmobile, and then when my hometown got its own public library I read all the Gardner novels on those shelves, too, many of them early Perry Masons in those cheap Triangle/Blakiston hardcover reprints (more like cardboard cover reprints) with the pages that were already brown and brittle some twenty years after they were published.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that I've been reading Erle Stanley Gardner novels for a long, long time, but I didn't encounter any of his pulp work until a few years later when Ron Goulart included one of the Lester Leith stories in his iconic anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS.

Even after that it was a while before I read many more of Gardner's pulp stories, but when collections of them began to come out in the Eighties and Nineties, I was right there. I read both volumes of the Whispering Sands stories from ARGOSY. I read both Ed Jenkins collections, and the Ken Corning collection, and the science fiction collection THE HUMAN ZERO. In recent years I've picked up more Gardner pulp collections, and I'll get to them, I swear I will.

That brings us to a recent non-fiction study of Gardner's pulp work, PULP ICONS: ERLE STANLEY GARDNER AND HIS PULP MAGAZINE CHARACTERS by award-winning scholar of mystery fiction Jeffrey Marks. Appropriately enough considering its subject matter, it's a fast, breezy, slightly hardboiled volume that focuses for the most part on the many different series characters Gardner created for the pulps. The longest chapter is the one on Ed Jenkins and Lester Leith, Gardner's best-known characters other than Perry Mason, Donald Lam, and Bertha Cool. However, Marks doesn't neglect the lesser-known characters such as Sidney Zoom, Speed Dash, The Patent Leather Kid, Black Barr, and The Man in the Silver Mask, among many others.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this book is the inclusion of correspondence between Gardner and the pulp editors for whom he was writing as they fine-tuned the stories and the characters. It's an interesting look into Gardner's creative process.

Overall, this is a very entertaining book, packed with information about Gardner and his characters, and whether you're a recent fan of his work or an old-timer like me, you definitely should check it out.