PaperBackSwap Blog

Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Cautious Coquette

The Case of the Cautious Coquette by Erle Stanley Gardner


Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)


Mystery expert Mike Grost says that the creator of Perry Mason had “seemingly inexhaustible ability to generate complex plots.” Evidence for this assertion abounds in this one, the 34th Perry Mason novel.

Amazingly, our favorite criminal lawyer opens the story performing as a personal injury attorney. Before we reach for the cuspidor, however, we must recall that this makes total sense since Mason takes on cases in which the little guy is pitted against remorseless forces like insurance companies.

Mason is seeking witnesses to the hit-and-run accident that left his client (a poor college kid) with a broken hip and his mother (a widow) all shook up. Complexity rears its head after a newspaper ad yields two drivers of two suspected vehicles and eventually two settlements for one accident. Mason is further astonished when found shot to death in a garage is a chauffeur that turns out to be the driver of one of the guys who settled. In typical Dickensian-Gardnerian fashion, the vic was named Hartwell L. Pitken.

Attractive and cunning Lucille Barton wants Mason to represent her in an alimony action, which he declines since he doesn’t do divorce cases. But Mason is with Lucille when Pitkin’s body is found in the garage of her apartment building. Mason directs her to report the body to the police and then leaves. Just like his usual conniving client, Lucille doesn’t make the call and a neighbor provides a positive ID of the hottie, but is less sure of Mason. To avoid having to answer awkward questions from the police, Perry decides to cite attorney-client privilege. This lands him with a client he doesn’t want, so he has to prove her innocence when she is arrested for murder of the driver.

In a rare linking of talents and resources, Homicide Detective Tragg and Mason join forces. Tragg’s rival on the force, Sgt. Holcomb, throws Tragg under the bus, so Tragg gratefully takes a tip from Mason. He cheers – silently, of course – when Mason tricks Holcomb and a witness into a false identification and makes Holcomb look like a big dummy in court. Mason and Tragg are even involved in a car chase, a rarity in the Mason novels.

Despite some antique slang such as “swell” and adjectives that have lost their power (what is the shape, size, and appearance of a “well-upholstered woman” anyway?), both fans of the series and novices will enjoy one of most intricately plotted of Mason’s cases.






Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply