Customer Reviews: The Case of the Sulky Girl
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on August 31, 2014
“Did you ever hear the story,” asked Perry Mason, in a kindly tone of voice, “of the man who brought suit against his neighbor, claiming to have been bitten by the neighbor’s dog? The neighbor filed an answer in which he denied that his dog was vicious, denied that the dog had bitten the man, and denied that he ever had a dog.”
“Yes,” said Frank Everly, “I’ve heard that yarn. It’s a classic around law school.”
“All right,” said Perry Mason. “The defense in that case became humorous because it took in too much territory. Now, when you’ve got a doubtful case, it’s all right to try and have two strings to your bow. But remember that when you have two strings on a bow, while increasing the factor of safety, you lose the efficiency of the weapon. A bow that has two strings won’t break a string, but it won’t shoot an arrow one quarter of the distance that it would if it only had one string to it.”
“You mean you’re sacrificing everything in this case to concentrate on some one point?” asked the law clerk.

Erle Stanley Gardner got his start in the pulps, but he was hardly 'gritty,' to use a current term. His 'hard-boiled' style, as far as it goes, consists mainly in playing it close to the vest; literally in Perry Mason's case. He is constantly pacing the floor with his thumbs in the armholes of his vest.. this is "hard-boiled" for "thinking." It can be an effective way of narrating a mystery, since the reader gets very little indication of WHAT Perry Mason is thinking.

I liked the procedural, lawyerly tricks that Mason pulls- at one point he sends ten thousand dollars by registered mail to a false address, just so that the DA won't find proof that his client had some of the victim's money. Another slick move:

“Now,” he told the girl, “you’re going to have a nervous breakdown. You’ll be sent to a sanitarium under another name. The police will find you sooner or later. But I want it to be later."

I also liked how the one-string move is saved to the very end of the book.. H R F Keating calls it "the most formulaic of formula fiction," yet he admits that it can be diverting, even for those who will also read more serious stuff.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 22, 2014
In my continuing goal to read all of the mysteries on H. R. F. Keating's list of 100 greatest mysteries, I picked up Erle Stanley Gardner's "The Case of the Sulky Girl" on sale. While I've enjoyed the others that I've read so far, I have to say that on this one Mr. Keating let me down.

I read a couple of my father's Perry Mason books when I was a kid, but didn't really remember much about them. Other than that Perry Mason was just Raymond Burr in re-runs of the old TV show so I had no particular expectations.

Unfortunately I found fairly quickly that I wasn't liking the book. I found the writing repetitive and stilted (how many times do we really need to be told that Mason's face was "patient"?) The characters behavior ranged from silly (the "sulky girl") to uncharacteristic (Mason in his confrontation with the soon-to-be victim). I thought perhaps the book made Keating's list due to an extremely clever solution, but, nope, it was exactly what I assumed it to be. Perhaps it was the inclusion of courtroom scenes, which was a departure from most mysteries, but, when they are so overwrought and silly it is hardly a redeeming characteristic.

Maybe I've been spoiled by the "hard boiled" mysteries of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, the cleverness of some late Victorians like Jacques Futrelle and great mysteries/characters of Golden Agers like Sayers , but I really couldn't find anything to like about this book. In Mr. Keating's defense I understand that he was trying to find a representative for each year in the 20th century so his picks may not have been an author's best. But Dorothy Sayers' "Murder Must Advertise" and Georgette Heyer's "Why Shoot a Butler" were published the same year and either would be a better choice. I think I need to break down and buy Keating's Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books which will presumably explain why he made the choices he did.

For anyone interested in old, classic mysteries I would recommend exploring the other authors mentioned above before considering "Sulky Girl".
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on February 28, 2003
This is the first Perry Mason story written by Erle Stanley Gardner, published in 1933. This is the first and only Perry Mason story I have read. I've heard that the tone of these earlier works are a little 'tougher' than the stories written in the following decades. The first half of the book certainly follows the hard-boiled tradition, as Mason acts a more like a private dick than a lawyer. But a lawyer he is, and the second half settles into a court-room drama. What does Perry Mason have up his sleeve that will rescue a young lady and her new husband from charges of murdering her uncle to ensure her inheritance?
An enjoyable, light read, although Gardner's writing is a little pedestrian and the build-up to the court case is a little long, with the trial itself resolved a little perfunctorily.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 28, 2014
Normally, I'm OCD about reading every word of a book before reviewing it, but I got half way through this one and I just CANNOT finish it. I bought a bunch of the Perry Mason series when they went on sale recently and this is the fifth one I've read. I liked all of the others. I love old mysteries and the older the better, but perhaps the author was having trouble moving from the pulp short story to the mass market novel when he wrote this one.

The premise is fine. Beautiful heiress's money is tied up in a trust controlled by her uncle and she'll lose it if she marries before age twenty-five. She consults Perry Mason to help break the trust so she can marry her moronic boyfriend. Then the uncle is bumped off and all hell breaks loose. Whodunit?

Unfortunately, it's so poorly written it's not so much "whodunit" as "who cares?" You've got Perry and Della (whose character isn't very well developed at this point) and a young law clerk who runs errand and adds nothing of interest to the story. Della is described as being "about 27 years old." How on earth are you "about" 27? You can be "about 25" or about 30," but surely you're either 27 or you're not. It's must have sounded unconvincing to the author because the next character introduced is the uncle's business partner who's described as being "45, broad-shouldered, and affable." How come we know HIS age to the year, but can't figure out poor Della's?

There are stilted, British expressions and words that sound totally out of place in a hard-boiled, American mystery. The car is called "the machine." The "police representative" is guarding the "clews" needed to convict the "chap" who committed the murder. And Perry is calling on "the telephone instrument" while telling a witness, "one must respect your position." It's like Gardner dozed off while reading Dorothy Sayers.

But the real kicker is when the heiress is said to regard Perry Mason with "limpid" eyes. That's an old word meaning "sparkling" that was much in vogue in 1900. Since the girl is repeatedly described as being expressionless and lifeless, why are her eyes sparkling?

Maybe this clunker gets better in the second half, but I can't waste any more time on it. There are 82 books in this series and most are good and some are excellent. Skip this one.
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on October 4, 2014
As a puzzler, this mystery works, even today. The solution slides in when you least expect it without being too contrived. The drawback to the Perry Mason series is that some of the red herrings along the way get discarded without resolution once the climax has occurred so don't expect a neat tie-together at the end. It still satisfies.

There are some antiquated terms and concepts like autos being referred to as "machines" and phones being referred to as "instruments" in casual conversation. Automobile identifiers like VIN numbers are easily memorized (they should be since they were shorter). Again, more of an oddity than a deal breaker to read the book.

My issue is with the transcription to the Kindle. It is increasingly distracting when there are so many typos and grammatical errors. Words are broken up, tenses are incorrect. I would hope the Kindle team will attempt to solve some of these issues.
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on February 16, 2016
Perry needs to solve a case that is as impossible on the surface as it is outside of the house. By the time he's finished he will discover why the name that Della gave the file fits it like a well tailored suit. It is even more involving then the TV episode was.
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on March 26, 2015
These stories have little in common with the TV series, and are definitely pre WWII period pieces. They are just as puzzling as the TV series. Mason is the tough attorney who is much like a period private eye. Drake is more a detective agency than one person. Mason has multiple employees. The police and DA's office are groups of people rather than the supporting stars of the series. The books explain why they had Burr wear that black makeup under his eyes. Della is more talkative here.
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on August 6, 2014
I've long been a fan of the Perry Mason TV series, partly because it is located in my home town of Los Angeles, the L.A. of my youth, and partly because I like the program format. It is half detective work then half courtroom drama. I decided to buy this book to see if it is as interesting as the TV series. I quickly learned that it was written in 1933, before I was born, during the early days of the depression and several years before the WWII. It carries that early gangster style where everyone is very tough with no real kindness anywhere. It probably was that way, according to my parents but it didn't make for a satisfying read. At least for me.
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on December 30, 2014
A nice bit of intro to the start of the series. We know about how old Della is, a bit of her history, and Perry is described quite a lot without giving any real details to his past except that he's well know for pulling miracles out of a hat during cases. We see Paul drake and a law clerk who's working with Perry.
First... This story should have been spell-checked better. There are a few blips here and there, and some spacing mistakes, that someone should have caught. Not a horrible number of them, but they do crop up once in awhile and annoy.

The case is as convoluted as usual, with lying clients, lying witness' and a D.A.'s office that is playing fast and loose with clues they don't like as well as playing footsie with the newspapers.

Interesting to see where Perry draws the line with playing fast and loose with some clues, (especially the location of his clients, who get 'hidden' away from police detectives quite a bit, IIRC) and where he's drawn the line on messing with things. Perry has his own rules, which he follows religiously, but they're not always on the side that will keep him out of jail if he gets caught. Not to mention when his own clients tend to try to set him up, or get him in a tight spot because of their lies.

Typical Perry Mason fare, and one I enjoyed. I'm not a fan of the show, but enjoy these a lot more. That dangerous line Perry walks keeps me turning pages just to see not only 'who dun it' but how Perry saves the day for his clients.
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on August 20, 2014
I tried to remember who done it from the TV show and found the book much more intriguing than the TV show that had to be solved in one hour! It's nice to read mysteries without having the violence smeared across every page. I like the process of figuring out who done it, even if I don't! I recommend this Perry Mason book!
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