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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance on paper,
This review is from: The Case of the Angry Mourner (Paperback)
The Case of the Angry Mourner is one of Earl Stanley Gardener's best works in his Perry Mason series. The premise of the book is very simple, the action is straightforward and suspenseful, and plot keeps you guessing until the very end. The book is a real piece of classic detective fiction because the reader is never lied to and is given all the evidence so that a cunning reader could potentially solve crime before Perry Mason. In fact, Gardener repeatedly gives clues to the ending, but uses his literary genius to present them in such a way that the reader jumps to a false conclusion. In The Case of the Angry Mourner, Perry Mason finds himself on vacation when his rest is suddenly disrupted by a murder. The millionaire Arthur Cushing, who was an infamous playboy, was murdered in his own home. A woman from a neighboring cottage, Belle Adrian, calls upon Mason to defend her daughter Carlotta, who she believes shot Cushing after he became too insistent during an intimate dinner. Carlotta believes that her mother killed him in a vindictive fury and police agree with her conclusion. Its is up to Perry Mason to sort of the clues and determine which woman, if either, killed Arthur Cushing. This book is a great murder mystery because of its presentation of the evidence. Unlike many Agatha Christie and Murder, She Wrote mysteries, the reader does not have to spot a single line of dialogue where the killer slips up and reveals himself or herself. Instead, The Case of the Angry Mourner depends heavily on circumstantial evidence. Gardner laying out a set of clues that can be interpreted in numerous ways and quickly deflates the "experts" who narrowly interpret the evidence against his client.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gardner's Mason Masterpiece,
This review is from: The Case of the Angry Mourner (Mass Market Paperback)
Background: The stylistic heritage of the Perry Mason mysteries is the American pulp magazines of the 1920s. In the early Mason mysteries, Perry - a good-looking, broad-shouldered, two-fisted, man of action - is constantly stiff-arming sultry beauties on his way to an explosive encounter that precipitates the book's climactic action sequence. In the opening chapters of these stories, Gardner subjects the reader to assertive passages that Mason is a crusader for justice, a man so action-oriented he is constitutionally incapable of sitting in his office and waiting for a case to come to him or to develop on its own once it has - he has to be out on the street, in the midst of the action, making things happen, always on the offensive, never standing pat or accepting being put on the defensive. These narrative passages - naïve, embarrassingly crude "character" development - pop up throughout the early books, stopping the narrative dead in its tracks, and putting on full display a non-writer's worst characteristic: telling the reader a character's traits instead of showing them through action, dialogue, and use of other of the writer's tools.
Rating "Ground Rules": These flaws, and others so staggeringly obvious that enumerating them is akin to using cannons to take out a flea, occur throughout the Gardner books, and can easily be used (with justification) to trash his work. But for this reader they are a "given", part of the literary terrain, and are not relevant to my assessment of the Gardner books. In other words, my assessments of the Perry Mason mysteries turn a blind eye to Erle Stanley Gardner's wooden, style-less writing, inept descriptive passages, unrealistic dialogue, and weak characterizations. As I've just noted, as examples of literary style all of Gardner's books, including the Perry Mason series, are all pretty bad. Nonetheless, the Mason stories are a lot of fun, offering intriguing puzzles, nifty legal gymnastics, courtroom pyrotechnics, and lots of action and close calls for Perry and crew. Basically, you have to turn off the literary sensibilities and enjoy the "guilty" pleasure of a fun read of bad writing. So, my 1-5 star ratings (A, B, C, D, and F) are relative to other books in the Gardner canon, not to other mysteries, and certainly not to literature or general fiction.
"The Case of the Angry Mourner": A+
"The Case of the Angry Mourner" is Gardner's masterpiece, one of the two or three best pure detective story he ever wrote. He is at his deftest in presenting the actual murderer's motive and opportunity in such a way that the reader is looking the other direction for the villain. Against the rural setting of this story, he plays by all the "rules" of detective fiction, never lying to the reader, and above all never hiding evidence that is crucial to the solution of the puzzle. He even one-ups us by repeatedly returning to important clues to the solution, but returning to them in such cunning ways that we constantly misinterpret them to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
The story is straightforward enough. Perry is on vacation at a cottage in the woods when a woman from a neighboring cottage calls upon him to defend her daughter against the charge of murdering a playboy who had become a bit too insistent after an intimate dinner at his rural retreat on the other side of the lake. The scene of the crime is positively cluttered with clues suggesting how the wheelchair-bound bounder met his end. Gardner uses one of his favorite detective story devices: a forensic "expert" who reads the clues and weaves them into a net that snares Perry's client. In this case the expert has two stages on which to strut his stuff: the interior of the murder cottage, and the back-road where the snow around the automobile abandoned by Perry's client tells the expert who came and went on the fateful night. Gardner truly enjoys laying out a set of clues that can plausibly be interpreted in a number of different ways, and his own guilty pleasure is in gently making fun of these experts and deflating the pomposity and closed-mindedness with which they typically deliver their chiseled-stone-tablet conclusions.
Fine stuff all around, with the only letdown being minor: the courtroom scenes are quite good in their own right, but they don't pack quite the punch of some of Perry's urban encounters.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "These ARE such HAAAP-PY days!!!",
The 1950's were innocent times, right? Yet this book was published in 1951 and the plot revolves around the murder of a rich, handsome playboy who has a VERY nasty hobby. We'd call it "date-rape." Back then he was a "wolf" who wouldn't take no for an answer and didn't mind getting rough to get what he wanted. He knew he could get away with it. As one of his victims says, "No girl wants to come forward and make charges that are going to get her a lot of publicity." Indeed, when this particular young lady is suspected of the murder, her mother's greatest fear is that her daughter's name would appear in the newspapers.
This is an unusual Perry Mason in that we find the celebrated lawyer away from his busy office and on vacation in a friend's rustic lakeside cabin. It's in a popular ski resort and the winter season is in full swing. Perry hasn't come for the winter sports, but for some much-needed rest. Sadly, he lacks the ability to leave his work at the office and he's eagerly awaiting the arrival of his faithful secretary Della Street with some case files to work on. This guy was a "Type-A" personality decades before the term was invented.
Before Della gets there, he's rousted out of bed by a frantic mother whose rebellious daughter was the last person known to have been with the murdered man. He tries to fend her off, saying "I'm an attorney and not a detective." Of course, she knows better and so do we. Anyway, he's been bored out of his mind for four days and isn't about to let this hum-dinger of a case get away. The next thing you know, Paul Drake (who admits to being a detective) has flown in and Perry is cooking him breakfast! Honestly, reading about the Great Man fixing eggs, toast, bacon, coffee, and OJ and then serving it on a warm plate (except for the coffee and OJ) is one of the high points of the book. And then Della arrives and he puts his arm around her shoulder and pats her (the author doesn't specify WHERE he pats her, so you can think whatever you like) and says, "Good girl!" Try THAT sometime and see what it gets you.
In addition to the mother-daughter suspects, there's a rugged local sheriff who's willing to go toe-to-toe with the big city lawyer and a farmer with a grudge against the dead man and his nosy wife who's going to spill her guts or die trying. And the local District Attorney is a cock-sure, bombastic bumbler who's certain he can out-wit the great Perry Mason so poor old Hamilton Burger gets a vacation, too.
This is the fourth in this series for me and the best so far. There's not one, but TWO very good red herrings and (while I had an inkling) I wasn't sure whodunit until the very end. A very satisfying mystery. Sadly, the "book description" describes the wrong book AGAIN. Poor Erle is probably spinning in his grave.
4.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining,
Hmm, as of this writing (September 2014), the “book description” on Amazon (regarding a Rita Swaine character) bears no resemblance to the actual book I received. That was a bit of a surprise when I started reading it as I instantly, from the opening lines, remembered the episode from the TV series, and it was very different from the description. Still, it was a very interesting and enjoyable book.
This book involved a mother and young adult daughter, each suspected of murdering a rather nasty playboy who attacked the daughter. Unfortunately, since each is trying to protect the other, both lie to Mason. In fact, it seems that no one is capable of telling the truth. Mason has to defend his client (while indirectly protecting the other woman), despite a wealth of circumstantial evidence proclaiming guilt.
This was my first Perry Mason book, although I’ve seen the 1930’s movies with Warren William and Ricardo Cortez several times, and I’ve probably seen each of the TV episodes even more times. I immediately read another book in the series after this one, so some of my impressions were formed from reading them both.
The things that surprised me most included the fact that the Perry Mason character was a little different from the TV series, a little more edgy, occasionally irritable. The opposing counsel was also a bit nastier and more competitive, with a more realistic antagonism toward Mason (I worked with lawyers for years, and most tend to view a lawsuit as a war that must be won at any cost).
And, of course the biggest difference was that in the two I read, the guilty party does not suddenly jump up in court and confess (sometimes with very little provocation). As much as we all love those “Perry Mason moments,” they really weren’t that realistic. The books don’t need to end in 60 minutes, minus commercials, so there is much more time to develop a plot and come to a conclusion. I found that more satisfying.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Perry Mason stories,
This review is from: The Case of the Angry Mourner (Mass Market Paperback)
Over the last thirty-five years I've read all of the Mason novels at least once, and most several times. This is one of the best.
It was written in 1951, during probably Gardner's strongest period, roughly 1939 - 1952. The earliest novels have a distinct "film noir" feel. By 1939, Gardner was transitioning into his mature period, when he (and Mason) mellowed a bit. Later, after the TV series became a huge hit, the novels became mechanical, the writing almost sterile, though the great plots remained.
Other reviewers have summarized the plot, so I will say little about that. It takes place almost entirely in a little town next to a lake in the mountains. A murder occurs late one night at one of the cabins on the lake. The cabin is owned by the wealthy landowner of most of the lake area, but is used mostly by his son for fun and amorous pursuits. It is early winter, probably mid-December, and a coating of hoar frost forms, just enough to hold some tracks until it melts during the next morning. Who made the tracks and when? Suspicion quickly falls on the mother of a young woman who had had dinner at the cabin the night before, and apparently stayed too late for her own good.
The story has several of Gardner's recurring themes: the setting, a cabin high in the mountains a few hours drive from LA; a ne'er do well son of a wealthy older man; a basically good-hearted rural sheriff; an over-confident rural DA. The basic idea of a 'wolf' attacking a young woman who gets away, and then the wolf is murdered, occurs also in the Case of the Waylaid Wolf.
But this one is considerably better than the Waylaid Wolf (though that story is pretty good). This is definitely one of Gardner's best novels. Unlike some, it is not TOO complicated. The resolution is especially tight and logical. I can think of no objections to any part of the plot. Everything is there. Little clues are left for reader. But can the reader tell the clues from the red herrings?
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughgoing review of the suitability of circumstantial evidence,
In a whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie, Perry pieces together circumstantial evidence to reveal the actual killer when everyone else is focused on obvious suspect who Perry happens to be defending. The forward telegraphs Gardner's intent to make circumstantial evidence the center of this story, but he makes the story very compelling. Perry solves the mystery and beats up on the local DA and other members of the local bar in very entertaining fashion. Gardner must have realized that his readers really enjoyed Perry giving the DA the business. Among the best in the series.
4.0 out of 5 stars Gardner will work on you in this mystery,
I read lots of Gardner's PM novels and can't think of one that I hadn't liked. I wasn't so sure about this one at first, but it got really good and I very much liked it by the end. At this point in my readership, one of the things I like is to watch Gardner work on the reader. In this story, he was throwing clues to entice "smart" guys like me to create my short list of suspects. In the end, I didn't have a clue!
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Perry Mason Gem,
An excellent story. The circumstances give some insight into the mindset of the 50's with its obsession with scandal. The story moves along nicely as the facts surrounding the crime are discovered. Tension is maintained throughout. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, though. I don't want to give it away, but there is no grand denouement, just an explanation.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine, engrossing reading,
This is fast-paced, engrossing murder mystery at just about its finest. The plot is credible, and Mason acts with his usual quick wits and risk-taking nerves. There are some minor defects, the result of hasty writing and editing: a few phrases are repeated too often and too close together. But these don't seriously affect the overall Gardner-esque style.
5.0 out of 5 stars WhoDunIt,
Mason always gets his man, unless it is a woman. These books combine mystery with courtroom drama, and it is fun to try to pick up the same clues that Mason sees so clearly. Try it if you think it's easy, you may be surprised at how we can miss the obvious. The TV reruns are favorites of mine also. ME TV.
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The Case of the Angry Mourner by Erle Stanley Gardner (Mass Market Paperback - September 1, 1993)
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