Re: RARA-AVIS: Erle Stanley Gardner

Date: 30 Nov 2002


Re your comment below:

> That's interesting, K. I recall an earlier post
> mentioning
> a pre-Perry Mason protagonist occurring in a few
> Black Mask
> (?) stories, but I didn't know that he much besides
> Perry
> Mason stories once he got started on them.

In addition to the Masons, Gardner wrote a popular series of PI novels about a disbarred lawyer-turned-private-eye named Donald Lam and his lady boss, Bertha Cool. These were written under the pseudonym of A.A. Fair. I believe he wrote approximately one Lam/Cool book for every two or three Masons.

He also wrote a ten-book series about Doug Selby, the young DA of a rural Southern California community, probably as a way of making up for making prosecutors look so bad in the Mason books.

Both the Lam/Cool series and the Selby series debuted in the late '30s.

There were also quite a number of stand-alones.
> I thought CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS was entertaining
> and
> might try a few more of the early ones one of these
> days.

It's kind of interesting that Gardner didn't realize how much his readers would come to enjoy the courtroom scenes in the Mason books. Out of the first four Mason novels, two, VELVET CLAWS and LUCKY LEGS, don't have any courtroom sequences whatsoever, and, in a letter to his editor, Gardner expressed misgivings about the trial scenes in the second and fourth books, SULKY GIRL and HOWLING DOG.

Almost against his will, Garnder invented the legal thriller. I still think the court scenes in HOWLING DOG and the fifth Mason novel, CURIOUS BRIDE, among the most gripping I've ever read.

The '30s Masons, in my opinion, contain some of Gardner's crispest writing. Those who find his style pretty nuts-and-bolts (not an altogether unfair criticism in later entries) may be surprised at how well Gardner turned a narrative phrase in the '30s.


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