Friday, 13 March 2015

The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner, 1933

I review this novel as part of my own “First Novels” challenge and for Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog, Pattinase.

The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), the first Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner, is unlike any Perry Mason I have read. 

Mason doesn’t go to court, so there is neither a court trial nor a court battle. There is no district attorney Hamilton Burger or Lieutenant Arthur Tragg. A young and emotional Della Street and a sleepless and hardworking Paul Drake assist him on the case. There is a beautiful and seductive client who hires him to rescue her out of possible blackmail, involving her and an ambitious politician. She pays him a handsome retainer, flirts with him, lies to him, pleads with him, and turns around and accuses him when her husband, the owner of a society rag, turns up dead. Finally, there is Mason himself who, in spite of being in serious trouble, refuses to ditch his client and dump the case.

The Case of the Velvet Claws requires no introduction or review. Most readers of mystery and legal thrillers and especially fans of Perry Mason have read it. The tale of blackmail and murder has enough grit and grime and reads like the plot of a hardboiled novel. What really elevates the story is the hardnosed character of Perry Mason who pulls out every trick from his legal hat to extricate himself from the mess and sticks his neck out to prove his crafty client’s innocence. In this, he is both gangster-like and gentlemanly.

During an emotional lip-locking scene between Perry Mason and Della Street, Gardner uses a term which, I thought, best describes his character in the novel—“gruff tenderness.”

Fans of Perry Mason will enjoy The Case of the Velvet Claws for the excellent storyline and characterisation and because, like I said, it’s unlike any Mason novel you are likely to read subsequently.

Recommended.

24 comments:

  1. You took me back decades with this post! Thanks.

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    1. Mystica, I have been reading Gardner off and on and I enjoy them as well as I did many years ago.

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  2. It's surprising that the long running and successful Perry Mason series started off with such an unlikely book as THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS. As you point out, this is not the "typical" Perry Mason template. Nice review!

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    1. George, thank you. I wonder what made Gardner change the tone of the series and the character of Perry Mason.

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  3. I've note read ANY Perry Mason/Gardner books typical or other. I suppose I should try at least one......this or something else?

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    1. Col, I love reading about the courtroom battles between Perry Mason and his rival district attorney Hamilton Burger. I hope you will try them.

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  4. I don't recall him ever engaging in fisticuffs or gunplay, but Mason in several of the earliest books--and certainly this one--was far more hardboiled in manner than later on.

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    1. Barry, I'd like to read (reread in some case) the early Perry Mason novels to see how Gardner developed the lawyer's character. He is tough and hardnosed only in the courtroom in later novels.

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  5. I really do like the earlier, more hardboiled Perry Mason books - great choice Prashant!

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I'm way behind my own "First Novels" challenge and this one helped fill the gap to an extent.

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  6. I've watched a few episodes of the TV show. Never read any of the books, though.

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    1. Charles, I have seen very few episodes of the Perry Mason television show and those include the ones where Raymond Burr is old and sports a beard.

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  7. Didn't see the show and haven't read the books. I do have the books, though. Not sure if I have this one. Thanks! Enjoyed your review.

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    1. Keishon, you're welcome. You can read the Perry Mason novels out of order as I did in my teens. Good entertainment all round.

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  8. I am pretty sure I have this book, Prashant. I can't remember which ones I read years ago, but I will start with this one too.. I think. I probably won't try to read all of them in order, but I would like to see the progression in the character.

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    1. Tracy, you can read the novels any way you like. I read quite a few myself though I don't remember which ones. Now I read them as and when I find them.

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  9. Not read this, but I find the title appealing - what could velvet claws be, I wonder to myself.

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    1. Moira, the "velvet claws" refers to Mason's client Eva Belter who Gardner describes as "A woman who had a will of her own and put a velvet clause in it" as the lawyer finds out to his peril.

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  10. I love this book, and as much as I love the later Perry Mason, both in the books and the TV show, this tougher version is really fun to read.

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    1. Ryan, I agree, it was "fun to read," especially since I was too used to Perry Mason in the later novels. I haven't see the television show where a young Raymond Burr plays Mason.

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  11. I'm sure I would enjoy this novel, Prashant. There was a time I read quite a few Gardner titles. He really has few equals in that legal/detective arena.

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    1. David, I think, most people have read Perry Mason at some point in their lives, probably very early on. I agree, I can't think of any writer who wrote legal-detective stories like Gardner did.

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  12. Missed this post as I was away at the mystery con. This one was my introduction to the Mason novels, after I'd watched the TV shows when they were aired (I was a kid, my parents watched it). Mason does punch someone in this one, I think, and is a tough guy. Later, about book five or six, Gardner decided to write the series as smart lawyer instead of tough guy, but they are all good. I haven't read ten all, I'm going in order and there are a few I still have to get my hands on.

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    1. Richard, no problem. I couldn't get used to Perry Mason as a tough guy who does, in fact, punch someone in this book. I have generally known him as a soft and smart lawyer in his later novels. I haven't seen too many of the Mason serials, old or now, though I have read most of his novels.

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