Friday, June 10, 2011

The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner

Part of the Synopsis From Back Cover:

Perry Mason had been warned that Eva Griffin was too beautiful for her own good.  He had also been warned that she was an out and out liar.  Perry took her case anyway.  It looked to intriguing...

In her wide-eyed, "innocent" way, Eva had been rather indiscreet with a gentleman who was not her husband.  Now her secrets were to be revealed by a paper called Spicy Bits.  Eva was ready to do anything to keep her name out of print.

What I did not know at the time I bought this book was that it's the very first Perry Mason mystery.  By now I think everyone knows that I'm a fan of both the books and the TV show.  The books I only discovered last year and this was my 4th one read.  To be honest I wasn't expecting  this book to be all that much different from the others, but boy was I wrong.

The Case of the Velvet Claws reads more like a typical "hardboiled" detective story than the others I've read. Perry is harder and more willing to get his hands dirty in order to serve the interests of his client.  There is s rather sharp edge to him that had been softened up just a bit in subsequent novels, though I'm not sure when the change happened.  He's angrier and doesn't have any problems showing it.  He's willing to blackmail and create false leads in order to get what he wants, all in the interest of the client.

That brings us to Eva Griffin.  Eva Belter is her real name, Griffin was an assumed name she took when she met Mason for the first time.  Della Street, Mason's secretary, takes and instant dislike to the woman.  It reminded me of a cat raising it's hackles at someone every time it sees them.  She warns Mason to not take the case, that Eva means nothing but trouble.  She was right.  Eva is a lying seductress who uses her looks and sex appeal to get what she wants.  She normally has no problems wrapping men around her little finger.  Mason is different though.  He sees through her and seems to have no problems ignoring the eyes and her killer body.  He takes the case simply because he is intrigued by it.

Eva and a politician had been spotted at a hotel bar after a homicide occurred and the police showed up.  Harrison Burke, the pol, was able to keep their presence out of the official report but somehow a gossip rag got a hold of his name but did not know that name of the woman.  Eva was desperate to stop the rag from printing her name, she was a married woman and it would destroy everything she had worked for.  Mason quickly learns that it's her husband who owned the paper, though he not publicly know to be.  The magazine was really a blackmail scheme, demanding money for "advertising space".  The advertiser would then have a say in what was printed.

When Eva's husband is found shot through the heart, she quickly comes up with a scheme to get her name out of it.  She fingers Mason as the man she heard arguing with her husband right before the shooting occurred.  The rest of the mystery involves Mason not only trying to keep his back stabbing client out of jail, but trying to clear his own name as well.  He gets down and dirty in the process.  In true Mason style he comes through in the end, proving both his and his client's innocence in the end.  There is not a court room scene in the book, though that will later become a trademark of the series.

I loved this book.  It's harder, grittier, and sexier than the others I've read in the series.  I almost wish Gardner had kept the character like this, though I appreciate the softer edges to Mason as well.  I also like the relationship with Della.  There is true physical chemistry between the two of them, a chemistry that is toned down in future books.  I was waiting for them to make that connection, it came close but never really got there.

I was trying to find a video of the TV episode of this one, I couldn't.  What I found interesting though is that even though this is the first book, it wasn't made into an episode of the show until the sixth season.  What I did find though, was the trailer for the 1936 movie adaptation.  From what I can see of the trailer, it follows pretty closely, though Mason and Della had just gotten married.  I tried to embed it, but for some reason it wouldn't play.  Here is the link instead.

Challenges: M&S, FF, VM


bermudaonion said...

I wonder if Mason was softened up because of reader response or editor response. I need to try one of these books. Those old covers crack me up.

Anonymous said...

I've only read one of the Mason books, but liked it. I do think it was a little more dated than some of the other vintage mysteries I've read. I'm looking forward to reading more though.

Bev Hankins said...

I love that cover! I have a few of this pocket edition Mason books on my TBR piles...I'll get to them one of these days.

Yvette said...

Great cover! Great review. Well, Ryan, thanks to you I came home from the library with 10 Perry Mason Books. Luckily they're split up into two anthologies.

I'll be posting my library loot bonanza on Monday. Stay tuned. HA!!

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of an edgier Perry Mason - he was way toned down in the t.v. show. And this cover rocks!

Angela's Anxious Life said...

Neat cover!!

XOXO Angela's Anxious Life