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Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Lucky Legs

The Case of the Lucky Legs by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is the third of 75 mysteries starring ace lawyer Perry Mason. Published in 1936, its settings appeal to a reader nostalgic for times when her ancestors were young: cigar stores, resident hotels, soda fountains, speakeasies, and full-serve gasoline stations. The period language teaches us how to speak noir: “look common” and “know your onions.”

This is an early Mason story so various elements jar us readers used to the lode Gardner mined, say, after WWII. Della Street has not found her usual role as confidante and enabler of illegal entry and evidence funny business. In this one, poor Della is not even taking notes while Mason grills a prospective client. Perry and PI Paul Drake’s relationship is convincingly stiff as neither knows the other enough to trust him. Mason as housebreaker has a set of skeleton keys he uses without compunction. Mason as tough guy threatens to punch people. Generally speaking the prose is mechanical, even plodding at the three-quarters mark, making me wonder, “Cripes, another interrogation! Again.”

And the smoking! Two scenes emphasize the power of watching smoke rise to assist deep thinking, which we ex-smokers will remember with rueful disgust at undeniable pleasure. David Sedaris mentions in When You are Engulfed in Flames that publishers have asked him if they could cut out references to smoking in a story they wanted to reprint. If publishers plan on doing that to Perry Mason, huge blacked out redactions will appear in these texts.

On the upside the characterization, such as it is, strikes me as better than usual because all four principles plus the two tough cops are plausible, with one of them being wily and worthy antagonist to Mason. Also, on the upside, as far as I, who’s read dozens of Mason novels, am concerned, it includes no courtroom scene.




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