To quote from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem: O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!
I have just acquired a copy of the 1953 Perry Mason mystery, THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS, by Erle Stanley Gardner, and I am thrilled.
As some of you know, I shun used books that are too musty for my allergies. And all too often, Gardner’s mysteries turn up foxed, cocked, gnawed on by mice, and reeking of mold. Just two weeks ago, I found a Mason mystery but regretfully had to pass. It was very hard to walk out of that antique mall without it, but breathing trumps reading every time.
However, good fortune was shining. Over the July 4th weekend, I stumbled across a copy of THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS in Texas. Not only does it have its dust jacket, but it isn’t musty at all. Thank you to all its previous owners (whoever you are and were) for taking such good care of it! I came galloping back across the Red River in triumph.
Now, in case you don’t know about Gardner, let’s just say he was a writing fiend who got his start producing short stories in the pulp era. It was his goal to write 1.2 million words a year, and, during the Great Depression when most of America was out of work, he made $20,000 a year writing stories that paid 3 cents a word. Gardner was also an attorney, although he found the practice of law beyond litigation and strategy to be boring. From 1933 to 1973, he wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels in addition to his short stories, radio dramas, and other projects. He favored action and dialogue over characterization or complicated plots. He preferred to focus on “speed, situation, and suspense.”
Not a bad formula, folks. His characters are paper-thin, under-described, and far from stereotypical. And until his death in 1970, he was the best-selling author in America. I can’t remember the exact figure now, but I’ve read about how–in the 1960s–bookstores would position a clerk near the cash register with a stopwatch to clock how many thousands of copies the latest Perry Mason mystery sold in an hour.
It’s been said that the last decade of Perry Mason books are less than great. I haven’t read enough of them to know. Still, I prefer the earlier Mason stories, when Perry was a tougher and more hard-boiled character than later on when Gardner softened him to be more appealing to mass audiences.
As for digging up more of Gardner’s work, yes, there is Kindle as a potential alternative to inhaling mildew, but Kindle lacks the lurid pulpy covers of the tangible books and offers a scant selection to the contrarians like me who don’t subscribe to Amazon’s lending library or Prime.
Besides, I enjoy the hunt for those old, inexpensive, battered hardbacks–even if I have to leave most of them alone. (What did the public do decades ago with old Perry Mason books? Let them float in flooded basements?)
Meanwhile, I’ve got my nose in THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS. Is it amazingly, breathtakingly good?
Can I stop turning the pages?