(This is an old draft finally finished up.)
“Tell me something I don’t know–start talking–try telling the truth for a change.”
“I’m afraid to.”
“Damn it,” Mason said, “I’m your lawyer. Whatever you say to me is confidential.”
“If I tell you you’ll quit representing us.”
“Don’t be silly,” Mason snapped. “I can’t quit. We’ve dragged Della into it. I’ve got to see her through. Give me the whole business right from the beginning.”
I try to read at least one Perry Mason mystery a year, just because there are so many and they are so much fun. Erle Stanley Gardner’s actual novels are a little less polished than in the TV show, but the grit makes it great. I absolutely love Della Street’s attitude, willing to do anything to see the case through.
This case begins when Mason smells a rat in a car-accident settlement and begins investigating an undercover oil firm. Soon the major players in the firm are embroiled in a murder trial when the money behind the operation, Fred Milfield, is found dead on his yacht. Young Carol Burbank quickly schemes up an alibi to protect her father, but in trying to shield her father she may end up exposing herself to arrest.
For as many books as Gardner wrote, they are consistently well-researched and dense with a tangle of time-tables and herrings. You can’t blink during his plots! Here, because the crime scene is located on a yacht, the tides produce an abundance of conflicting circumstantial evidence that only Perry Mason is astute enough to puzzle out.
He is a fascinating character, driven by curiosity and justice, and instinct often leads him to the scene before the police. Here he has the upper hand, to have been investigating the Karakul Company on a hunch even before an actual murder was committed. With his reputation, I’m always surprised that his clients still prefer to keep information from him, but I suppose that that’s human nature. Of course, because of his unconventional methods the police don’t always trust him either!
Tragg puffed at his cigar. “You’re a tough customer, Mason.”
“I’m not naturally tough. I’ve learned to be tough through rubbing elbows with the police. I don’t know why I should give you anything, Tragg. You’re always trying to hit back at me, and this time you tried to hit back through Della.”
“Because you led with Della,” Tragg replied. “You and I are on opposite sides of the fence, Mason. Your methods are brilliant enough, but they aren’t regular. As long as you play the game the way you do, I’m going to crack down on you every chance I get.”