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The case of the slick pulpster
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.