Daily Archives: April 5, 2012

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??”

It’s Thursday. Time for third sentence(s).

(Just a quick recap: Third Sentence Thursday is another one of those book-related web games. The idea is to open the book you’re reading to a random page and post the third complete sentence on that page, with a short teaser description of the book.)

Thirteen at Dinner, Agatha Christie

p. 158: “‘She was very startled at seeing me, of course.'”

The next day, you might think she’d have been seriously worried, not just startled, about having seen the speaker (her cousin, a man she’s at least half in love with). She – Geraldine Marsh, the daughter of Lord Edgware – was supposed to be at the opera, but her penniless cousin Ronald met her there during the intermission and persuaded her to go home, sneak in and get her pearl necklace, and give it to him to sell. He’ll wait in the taxi…but as she comes down the stairs with the pearls, there’s Ronald in the hall.

Next morning, she learns that her father was murdered in his library, just off that hall, sometime during the evening when she filched the pearls. (So poor cousin Ronald is now the new, wealthy, Lord Edgware.) What was he doing in the hall instead of the taxi, anyway?

Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen

p. 4: “Long roads like snakes with no tails.”

Claire keeps having dreams about her early childhood when she and her mother roamed aimlessly down those snaky roads. Back then, she spent too many nights waiting in the car outside bars and too many days acting as lookout while her mother shoplifted.

But what really bothers Claire is that everything changed when her younger sister came along. Suddenly, her mother decided that children need roots and security. Suddenly, they went home. Her mother and sister wandered off again long ago; Claire’s still there, rooted like the famous family apple tree, careful to make sure nothing ever changes again.

Everything is about to change.