A Matter of Wills

"A murder case is simply a jigsaw puzzle, a lot of things to be put together. If you have the right solution, all the parts fits into the picture. If some of the parts don't seem to fit, it's a pretty good indication you haven't the right solution."
- Perry Mason 
Some words before delving into Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Lonely Heiress (1948) on my previous post, "Scattershot: Hoch, Line and Sinker," in which I discussed three short-shorts by Edward D. Hoch and another small nugget from Richard Curtis – whom I presumed was Richard Deming. I received a few emails from former Jury Box reviewer Jon L. Breen pointing out that the attribution of the Odds Bodkin stories to Deming is probably incorrect:
"As for Richard Curtis's stories for EQMM in the 1970s, the first one (not an Odds Bodkins) from the November 1961 issue has a bio that makes clear this is the young literary agent, just starting his writing career. Thus, I doubt they'd have another writer using the same byline after that, leaving only the possibility that Deming became a ghost for Curtis, which seems highly unlikely, besides which there's no evidence for it."
So there you have it. In a age where High-Definition snapshots of the surface of Mars can be conjured up with a simple click or a swipe the internet is still about as useful as a self-inflicted gunshot wound, if you happen to be looking around for scraps of background information on a little-known magazine writer from the 70s. Welcome to the niche corner! Oh, well, I want to thank Jon Breen for rectifying this mistake and I'll correct my post in regards to that short story as soon as possible with a link back to this explanation.

The Case of the Lonely Heiress opens with a visit from Robert Caddo, driving force behind an irregular published pamphlet, circulated for twenty-five cents per copy under the title Lonely Hearts Are Calling, who has come under scrutiny after accusations of placing false ads to boost sales. One ad in particular stands out, "Miss Box 96," a self-described heiress and that's not the type of person that usually subscribes to these kinds of services – especially in those days. Perry Mason and Della Street begin to compose love letters to the mysterious heiress, while their private-eye chum Paul Drake provides a detective to play the part of a lonely country boy looking for companionship in the big city.

This is a Gardner novel, however, and if you think this was going to be story about Mason and Della Street stalking a "Black Widow" in the Lonely Heart columns of an obscure city rag, while trying to unsnarl her web of lies – than you're dead wrong. Mason does bait a trap for Marilyn Marlow, but she ends up being his client after explaining her reasons involving a disputed will that made her an heiress. I have to point out here that this portion of the story describes something that’s known today as Cat Fishing: "It's quite the thing for pranksters to buy copies of the magazine, write that they're lonely widowers with large fortunes and good automobiles and things of that sort, and build up a correspondence with some of these women, simply for the purpose of a practical joke." If this line is actually an unedifying tidbit of digested history, instead of something Gardner made up to flesh out the story, there's a chance that there are still old prank letters out there fooling people who read them into thinking they stumbled to their grandmothers embarassing secret ("Mom mentioned Granma had a pep in her step a year after Granpa died.") It's also an iron-glad argument that computers surpassed us the moment we plugged the cord of the first prototype into a wall socket.  
Anyway, the second half is a cat-and-mouse game between Mason and Lieutenant Tragg of Homicide, who becomes involved after one of the witnesses to the contested will is stabbed to death, and fancies Marlow as his #1 suspect – which Mason has no shortage of objections to! Mason and Tragg try to score one of each other until they appear in court and while Mason sometimes (read: standard practice) takes liberties with the law, it's the Tragg who goes into the deep end by participating in "third-degreeing" Marlow with a nasty play on the good cop/bad cop routine. I think this is what makes Mason's behavior much more acceptable to readers than Tragg's, because the former doesn't pretend to be charming, straight-laced cop sneakily measuring someone's neck for a noose – based on an incorrect interpretation of the evidence. 

In summation, The Case of the Lonely Heiress was as readable and well plotted as the other Perry Mason cases previously discussed on here, which were not landmark works in the genre, but I never put one back on the shelf feeling disappointed or cheated. They are what they profess to be: detective stories.

On a final note: I picked this opening quote from the end of the book because it happened to be so similar to something Mason said in the previous story I read, and used it to start of that review with.


  1. Been too long since I tried a Mason book - in fact, I think I've only read them in Italian! Really enjoyed the review - cheers mate.

  2. I'm also working my way through the books, and enjoying them, as long as I don't try to read too many in a short time.