The Case of the Silent Partner by Erle Stanley Gardner
Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)
The 17th Perry Mason mystery, published in 1940, is a must-read for all Mason fans. The reason is that Lt. Tragg makes his debut as Mason’s astute adversary. Gardner explicitly puts Tragg at the same age as Mason, something that may disconcert fans who have always pictured Tragg as Ray Collins who was almost 30 years older than Raymond Burr.
Another curious point is that Tragg interviews a person of interest without Mason in the scene even after Mason has been introduced into the story. Usually Gardner places Mason in every act, every scene. Gardner has Tragg get the person of interest to reveal unwittingly what is on her mind while ostensibly giving her a word association test. Gardner does not want even the dullest reader to miss that the wily Tragg knows psychology whereas his hard-charging predecessor Sgt. Holcomb spells “psychology” starting with an “s.”
Our expectation that a Mason novel always climaxes with a rousing preliminary hearing scene leads to the third uncommon point. The climax is a civil trial. Mason does make the opposing lawyer look silly, however.
Because Tragg gets a lot of space, there is less Paul Drake. He is not introduced until about half-way through the story. His role is small. Fans of Della Street will be happy to know that she plays a very active role in the story. This, by the way, is why the novels are much better than the TV series. In the TV shows Della rarely did little beyond answering the phone and taking notes.
As usual, too, Gardner expresses his support for womankind, being about as much a feminist as we can expect of a man of his generation. He sympathizes with the female owner of a small chain of flower shops, emphasizes that she has to be twice a tough and canny as men in business but still be available to be caregivers to aging relatives.