Vintage Mysteries – Taking a big gamble

Review – The Case of the Dangerous Dowager, by Erle Stanley Gardner

A keeper? Yes

Nobody in this story tells the truth. Not Perry Mason’s client, who’s pretty proud of her skills as a liar. Not the client’s granddaughter Sylvia Oxman, who wants to divorce her husband, keep her daughter, and retrieve her gambling IOUs – but she can’t afford to pay them off. Not either one of the two partners who own the ship where Sylvia gambles. Not the private detective who’s supposed to follow Sylvia for Perry Mason. And certainly not Perry Mason, the most notorious lawyer in Los Angeles, himself. You really get a feel in the Dangerous Dowager for the reasons that the police and the District Attorney tend to assume that Mason is a crook who defends only guilty clients – even though we get to sit in on Mason’s private speeches to his secretary and to his lead private detective explaining that he acts only on the highest principles.

And when Mason finds one of the owners of the gambling ship shot to death, just after meeting Sylvia Oxman on her way out of the owners’ private office, his devotion to the highest legal principles at once makes him leave money equal to the value of Sylvia’s IOUs in the desk drawer and burn the IOUs. When he hears someone else coming a few seconds later, he promptly stuffs the ashes and some chewing gum in his mouth, and starts idealistically chewing up the evidence. What a man!

There’s more, much much more, before the mess finally gets to court where Mason can trick and maneuver witnesses – and bait the district attorney – until the unexpected truth comes out. With a little help from one last lie.

Does this have much resemblance to any real court case or anybody’s real legal practice? I doubt it. Is it entertaining? Oh, yes.

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