Monday, July 6, 2015

The Case of the Borrowed Brunette: Review

Della Street, knowing how much of his success was due to his ability to make instantaneous appraisals of character, and to a sympathetic understanding of human nature, saw nothing unusual in the fact that Mason should interrupt a busy schedule to count the brunettes who were standing at corners on the south side of Adams Street. 

But by the end of The Case of the Borrowed Brunette (1946), Perry Mason will be very sorry that he stopped to find out what it was all about.

...the next time I run across anyone who is borrowing a brunette, I'm going to let him keep her!

Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty and he has no way of knowing that by the end of this little adventure he will have just barely escaped a Grand Jury charge of perjury (at best) or accessory after the fact to murder (at worst). Mason tells Assistant District Attorney Harry Gulling he's doing in the wrap-up scene...I'm getting the cart before the horse.

When Perry and Della stop at one of the Adams Street corners and ask Miss Cora Fulton why she (and at least seven other brunettes) are playing a game of Statues on the street corners, they find that a Mr. Hines has advertised for just such a thing--looking for brunettes of a certain size, shape, and age to "audition" for a "colorful, adventurous job." Fifty dollars a day sounded pretty good to Cora and her friend Eva Martell, so they each answered the ad and were assigned positions along Adams. Eva winds up meeting the mysterious Mr. Hines's qualifications and is hired (along with her chosen chaperone, Adelle Winters) to take up residence in an apartment and to answer to the name of Helen Reedley.

All of Mason's instincts are instantly on alert--especially when Adelle Winters makes a secret visit to his office. What is Hines's game? Why should he hire Eva to wear another woman's clothes and live in her apartment? Is Helen Reedley still alive? And if she is will she remain so for much longer? The thing is--when murder strikes, it isn't Helen Reedley who is found dead with a .32 bullet through the forehead. It's Mr. Hines and the police and Harry Gulling think Adelle and Eva are just perfectly suited as the killers. Especially when Adelle seems to make telling lies into an art form and Mason spends a great deal of effort hiding Eva from the authorities.

Mason is going to have to work even faster than usual to find the real killer before his clients are sent to the electric chair....and he has to face jail time himself. There are several other suspects handy--from the girl who thinks Hines has double-crossed her in love to Helen Reedley's husband who may have believed Hines to be her secret lover to Helen Reedley's real secret lover. But the real trick will be finding proof. At the moment, all the evidence points to his clients. Anyone who knows Mason knows that he won't let that bother him, though. He excels at the last minute production in the court room.

I was definitely intrigued by the opening premise of this one. All those brunettes hanging out on the street corners in answer to a mysterious ad. The build-up was excellent and the plot was believable enough (in the realm of fiction). It seemed to be even faster-paced than the usual Perry Mason novel--picking the reader up with Perry and Della at the beginning and running fast and furious to the last scenes. Great fun with a plot that kept me guessing even though there were a limited number of possible suspects. A definite winner in the cases of Perry Mason. ★★★★

This counts for the "Lawyer, Judge, etc" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. Erle Stanley Gardner was born on July 17, so he is my July author for the Birthday Month Challenge as well.


J F Norris said...

Is this Gardner's nod to Doyle's "The Red Headed League"? I have this one and since it appeared on Jeff Mark's "Best of Gardner" list a while back I put it in my pile of Mason books for this year. I may have a Perry Mason read-a-thon in the fall.

Bev Hankins said...

John--quite possibly (I hadn't thought of that--thanks!). He does do something a little different with the find someone of certain type situation, though.

fredamans said...

Being a Brunette, I got quite the chuckle. Sounds like a fun mystery. I've seen the show but never read the books. I should though. Great review!

Major said...

This was worth reading despite downsides. It's rather talky. Mason and Drake have extensive and complicated conversations exonerating the persons of interest. Boo. Unexpectedly, familiar characters such as Della, Lt. Tragg, and DA Ham Burger don’t play roles. Boo. But there are many more suspects than the usual three or four, all of whom have cool retro names: Orville L. Reedley, Cora Felton, Daphne Gridley, Carlotta Tipton, Arthur Clovis and Helen Reedley. Yay.