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Mystery Monday – The Case of the Spurious Spinster

The Case of the Spurious Spinster by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The later Perry Mason novels are organized like the TV episodes featuring the super-lawyer. That is, the action opens with what really happened, usually to a plucky working girl who’s just trying to do her best in a strange situation. The situation deteriorates ethically and legally to the point where the protagonist is driven to consult Perry Mason, who is intrigued by whatever kind of scam is afoot.

A demure secretary, Susan Fisher, suspects her boss of funny business when the boss’ young son comes up with a shoebox full of benjamins. Also, the owner of the company – the kind of blunt astute business woman Gardner respected – disappears along with accounting evidence that defalcations have been occurring.  Seeing herself in a vulnerable position, Susan consults Perry Mason.

So, the first chapter of Spurious Spinster is one of the longest set-ups in the Gardner canon of 80-some Perry Mason novels.  Usually I would feel impatient with this (I like a vic right away in a mystery), but Gardner, wielding narrative magic  in a story of embezzlement, kidnapping,  and impersonation, builds suspense by getting us veteran fans wondering when the heck the murder is coming off and who is going to be the vic. When Perry and Della finally come upon a gasoline-doused corpse, the tension is just about unbearable.  The trial sequence is thus delayed and seems a tad rushed. Though dour Lt. Tragg and Perry have some fine exchanges, DA Hamilton Burger does not get a chance to make an exasperated outburst.

Other exceptional scenes: Della uses her femininity to open up a crusty prospector and Paul flatly predicts, “The evidence points so unerringly and so damningly that there isn’t a ghost of a chance she’s innocent. And what’s more, I’m betting that within twenty-four hours Amelia Corning’s body will be discovered somewhere and you’ll find your client charged with another murder.” Boy, you’d think after 60-some novels (this was published in 1961), Paul would have as much faith in Perry as Della does.

As we fans do….

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