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Mystery Monday – The Case of the One-Eyed Witness

The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The Case of the One-Eyed Witness opens with so much antique Americana that we readers wonder if this is some post-modern author overdoing the period detail: movie theaters full on week-nights, drugstore-soda fountains, nickels for a pay-phone, and an LA night club with a live orchestra, a floor show, a hat-check girl, a photograph girl, and a cigarette girl. People sport retro names like Medford, Myrtle, Clark, Arthman, and Carlton. They use retro expressions “in a blue funk,” “thimblerig,” “look all over hell’s half acre,” and “You’ve got a lot of crust to….” As in Mad Men everybody smokes; in fact, Mason smokes Raleighs.


It’s not all cheesy nostalgia. In The Case of the One-Eyed Witness Perry and Paul’s investigation uncovers a racket engaged in human trafficking, a problem that has hardly gone away. They also expose a con that depends on the mark’s racism and fear of discrimination, two sides of prejudice still among us. The criminal justice issues Gardner raises plague us yet, particularly over-reaching on the part of the cops and prosecutors. Other issues that still burn include improper police procedures, eyewitness misidentification and incorrect understanding of circumstantial evidence. Recall, it is a system that is staffed by human beings, entities that have not reached the state of perfection since I last checked.


To end on a positive note, during her confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor said that the TV series starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason awakened her to the vital role of the law in our society. Many lawyers of a certain age will cite Perry Mason and Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) as their inspirations to become attorneys.

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