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Mystery Monday – The Case of the Runaway Corpse

The Case of the Runaway Corpse by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The hard-charging Sara Ansell hustles her kind-of-a -relative Myrna Davenport into lawyer Perry Mason’s office. Myrna explains that her husband Ed suffers poor health and may drop dead at any time. Ed has warned others that his wife probably knocked off two of her relatives with poison and that he too is in danger of being done to death with arsenic. Myrna has heard from Ed’s lips that he has written a letter labeled “to be opened in the event of my death and delivered to the authorities.” Sara cajoles and coerces Myrna into hiring Mason to manage the estate in the event of Ed’s demise. The first order of business, then, is for Mason to visit Ed’s office (Myrna gives him the key), find the letter, and determine its contents.

Events unfold rapidly after the first chapter. Like: a doctor declares Ed dead, but Ed’s corpse does a bunk and is later found in a shallow grave. Like: in two excellent chapters, Mason does the fandango dodging questions from local law enforcement and exasperates a credulous young woman. Like: the trial sequence between Mason and a Fresno DA throws off sparks.

Although not as delightfully convoluted as a typical Mason novel, this one has a little more depth than usual. One gets the feeling that Mason loves questioning people, doing hocus-pocus with evidence and using the law to protect his clients from  cops and DA’s that have drawn the wrong conclusions from fragmentary evidence or the inaccurate memories of witnesses. Mason also waxes philosophical, which happens once in a blue moon:

… it’s an unfortunate trait of human nature. You accept all kinds of phony tips from touts and never win, then one day a quiet, sedate individual comes along with a straight tip on a dark horse in the fifth race and you pass it up because you’re too smart to fall for any more of that stuff. After the fifth race you kick yourself all over the lot.

One also feels that Gardner respected intelligent people, not only Mason’s quick-witted logic but also a DA’s clever strategies at trials and even a crook’s fiendish ingenuity in cooking up scams. Stupidity is the same stale stuff time after time, despite poor outcomes. It’s intelligence that makes life lively and fascinating and joyful.


















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