Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Case of the Queenly Contestant by Eric Stanley Gardner; Widows Wear Weeds by A.A. Fair

The Case of the Queenly Contestant (A Perry Mason Mystery)The Case of the Queenly Contestant by Erle Stanley Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Typical fun read with Perry Mason and his sidekick Della Street. No spoilers!

A woman with a regal baring comes to Mason to retain him. She tells him that the newspaper for her local town wants to find her whereabouts and she at all costs wants to remain anonymous.

Twenty years ago she left her small town after winning a beauty contest and headed for Hollywood. Life did not go as planned and for reasons she's not willing to divulge even to her lawyer she is desperate to keep the newspaper and the townsfolk from knowing her whereabouts.

Mason must find out her secret. He must also find out why the local newspaper wants to discover what happened to her. Is it really just idle curiosity over a local or is there a more sinister reason?

The fact that two Private Investigators from the town are shadowing Mason make him believe the latter.

The story moved at a good pace, kept my attention and piqued my curiosity. Gardner knows how to structure a plot line without any unnecessary events or conversation that would congest the overall arch.

Not a deep or profound story, Gardner's no Dostoevsky but he's enjoyable to read the same way eating a handful of Hershey Kisses tastes great. Just don't make an exclusive diet of it. Perfect for a weekend curl up.

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Widows Wear WeedsWidows Wear Weeds by A.A. Fair

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A.A. Fair is a pseudonym for Eric Stanley Gardner who wrote the Perry Mason series. Out of curiosity I bought a collection of books that he wrote under a different name about two different sort of mystery solvers.

No spoilers.

I think there is a book that writes about the meeting of the two protagonists but I wasn't sure if I had it so I plunged in with the first book I plucked off my shelf.

A.A. Fair's mysteries involve an oddball couple: Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. Together they run a private detective agency. How they met, I don't know but they took up shop together and at least in this mystery the arrangement works.

Bertha Cool is no Della Street. She is built like a cement truck and carries all the finesse and charm of one. She's rough, crude and gets what she wants, which is to make sure they get paid well for their casework.

Donald Lam, a slender handsome man of smallish stature, is the one on the streets doing the actual investigating. He also seems to be the one with the most brains. Other than finances, Bertha Cool doesn't seem to have a whole lot of foresight, a trait that is starkly demonstrated in this story.

The story: Nicholas Baffin, a local restaurant owner, comes to Lam and Cool because he is being blackmailed. He wants Lam to meet the blackmailer with him and pay him off. Lam informs Baffin that blackmailers have a way of demanding more and more money and the worst thing one could do is pay them.

No, no, Nicholas Baffin insists. We need to pay him off and be done with it. It's not for him, understand, but for the famous movie star that he has compromised and, in fact, it is her money that is going to the blackmailer.

Things sound sketchy to Donald but Baffin is paying well and Bertha's eyes go "kaching!" so they take the case. Everything seems weird from the get go and afterwards, Lam discovers that the blackmail scheme was a set up, but why? Why would a man risk his marriage by pretending to be having an affair and being blackmailed?

Another strange incident: Nicholas Baffin invites Lam, Cool and the Chief of Police to eat at his restaurant. They are placed at a table where they are in the spotlight. Obviously, Baffin wants everyone to know they are there. What happens next (no spoiler!) compromises them all and sets a turgid series of events that makes it tempting to all involved to disengage in dishonest practices so as not to be incriminated to a horrible crime.

This was a very quick read and just as fun as the Perry Mason novels. I am impressed that Gardner was able to adeptly write mystery novels in a way that did not imitate his other novels. Lam and Cool are very different people, as I said, and the story line, at least in this book was developed in a different way than the Mason mysteries.

Good, old school reading.

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Eric Stanley Gardner
A.A. Fair


  1. I am glad that you are reviewing these books. I also have been some doing some fun reading myself that I will be posting about soon. I love your Hershey Kisses comparison!

    I caught a bit of an old Perry Mason television show the other day. I am not sure just how close to the books these were, but they were great fun. It is interesting how they have permeated into our culture. Even most young people seem to know who Perry Mason is.

    1. Hi Brian. I'm glad you enjoy my reviews across the spectrum. :) I worry a little because my book reviews don't fit into any one niche. One week it's Socrates the next it's Dashielle Hammett.

      I read more serious stuff during the week, but on weekends I like to relax with a fun read.

      Take care!

    2. Great Post!!! i confess: i love Perry and Donald. i try not to feel guilty about this because at my age i shouldn't feel that way about anything; but i've read 48 Perrys and 9 Donalds(he sniggers to himself); last night i just finished Cautious Coquette, which i thought was one of his better ones... i do read other stuff, also, but probably because i just can't find the Gardners at reasonable prices(<$1)... tx for cheering up an old person with this post!

    3. "he sniggers to himself" I love it!

      One benefit of this blog is discovering people who are as guilty as I am of reading for the sheer delight of it.

      Wow! 48 Perrys. I only have a few. But at least that is something to look forward to. I'll have to check and see if I have the Cautious Coquette.

      I know what you mean about reasonable prices. I have found some on ebay and also by bumming around flea markets. This part of the country is huge on antiquing and flea markets. I have found a few gems that way.

      Glad to be someone who has the ability to cheer someone else up! Have a great week!

    4. i downloaded the list of Perrys from wiki; don't recall how many there were total, but i think i've read about half of them... we don't have many flea markets, etc. around here, which makes accumulation difficult; library sales, though, Good Will, used stores of several kinds; poking about is fun and not too expensive, usually... and tx for cheering me up!!! have a great week...

    5. Hi Mudpuddle. I didn't know about wiki. Thanks for the heads up. Especially since I am not buying books for a while.

      We have some good library fairs here, too. Ironically, even though my town is bigger, the small town where I work has a phenomenal book fair four times a year with literally thousands of books: hardcovers $1 and paperbacks .50.

      I've bought a ton of books from them and many of them in mint condition.

      We also have a lot of Indie bookstores here and in neighboring towns. Shreveport is only 45 minutes away and they have five or six.

      I love independent bookstores because you can find so many out of print books.

      I just finished a mystery by Josephine Tey. Have you read her? I think so far it may be the best mystery I've read.

    6. yes, super-excellent; "The Daughter of Time" is her best, i think... poor Inspector Grant, laying in hospital with nothing to solve... but all of her work is terrifically good... two more favorites are Edmund Crispin and Michael Innes, especially the former: quite a bit of freshman/maniacal dashing about; see "THe Moving Toyshop"...Innes is a little more erratic in quality, but his worst is better than most, imo...

    7. Ooh! Don't tell me anything! I just read that Daughter of Time is considered the best mystery of the 20th century. I read The Franchise Affair and it was excellent so I can't wait to read DoT.

      I had not heard of Edmund Crispin but I see Amazon has a lot of his books. I'll have to check it out. Hopefully, a nearby library will have his books.

      They don't have Crispin but a lot of Innes so I guess I'll start with Innes.

  2. I think it's been way too long since I've read a Perry Mason story, I'll have to remedy that!

    1. Hi Marcia. They're fun weekend reads. Something to read in between the heavier stuff.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.