Vintage mysteries: Poor pitiful Evelyn

Review: The Case of the Restless Redhead
by Erle Stanley Gardner

A keeper? Yes, I think so -
the poor thing has already been rescued once

(A couple of years ago my husband took a weekend to explore the Pennsylvania mountains with cameras. On the way through a small semivertical town, he noticed that their library was having a book sale, and had no choice but to stop. He came home with a cardboard box full of well-used discarded hardback Erle Stanley Gardner mysteries; I was thrilled.

And that’s how I met Evelyn Bagby, the Restless Redhead.)

Anyway, Evelyn has had a rough time. First her acting coach disappeared with just about every penny she owned, so she’s had to spend several years slowly working her way to Los Angeles to start her destined career as a movie star.

She’d be in Hollywood already if her car hadn’t given up in the small town of Corona, not far from L.A. – where she was arrested for stealing jewelry from the famous movie star Helene Chesney. Who, it turns out, used to be married to Evelyn’s thieving acting coach and is being blackmailed by him. But never mind that; Evelyn’s in trouble here. Her young lawyer is panicking at his first big case and botching the cross-examination, until the one and only Perry Mason wanders into the courtroom and takes an interest.

Next thing you know, Perry has taken Evelyn under his wing and found her a job, and is representing her in negotiating a settlement for false arrest. But who left a gun in her dresser drawer…and why?

Still, Evelyn’s glad she has the gun when a mysterious masked man tries to run her off the road as she drives down from the mountains. She fires a couple of shots out the window and scares him off; at least, she doesn’t see him again. Perry is worried, though, and makes her report the attack to the sheriff…who finds a masked man, dead, shot, in an upside-down car at the bottom of a ravine. Oh, and it turns out that the corpse is Evelyn’s acting coach, Helene’s husband.

But it was all just an unfortunate accident, or maybe self-defense, right? Well…once the police get a better look at the dead man, they notice that there’s no bullet hole in the mask – which was made out of a pillowcase like the ones on Evelyn’s bed and covers his whole head. Was he chasing her wearing the mask? Maybe. But he wasn’t wearing it when he was shot. Somebody climbed down to the wrecked car and put the mask on him, or else put the body in the car and then ran the car over the cliff.

And the story gets much more confusing. There are multiple bullets, a reclusive artist, and an arrogant businessman who’s engaged to Helene (remember Helene?) or maybe to her best friend Irene. After about 250 pages of red herrings, green herrings, and probably plaid herrings, Perry Mason dramatically unmasks the real murderer and the real motive in court – as he usually does.

It was kind of fun to try to make sense of the complicated adventures of the various bullets. And the story held my attention. I’ll keep it because most Perry Masons make entertaining reading every four or five years, if you let them sit until you forget the plot. But overall, this is a grade C Mason – one of the stories that relies too much on characters and events that appear out of nowhere. At the end, it leaves you shaking your head and asking “Who was that killer? And what was the explanation of the murder again??”

3 responses to “Vintage mysteries: Poor pitiful Evelyn

  1. beverleysmith36

    I only remember Perry Mason on the telly, not sure if there is and relation between the two. Enjoyed the write up.

    • Oh yes, a very strong relation – I’ve read that Erle Stanley Gardner (who wrote the Perry Mason books) insisted that the TV show had to follow certain rules like making sure Mason’s client always turned out to be innocent. The first few seasons of the show (until they ran out of books) were more or less based on the published mysteries.

      And the funny resemblance, that I didn’t realize until recently, is that Gardner changed the way his characters looked! For instance, when Lieutenant Tragg first turned up sometime in the 1940s (in the books) he was described as tall and handsome. After the TV show got underway, book-Tragg became short with a wide grin like the actor.

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