Sunday, September 11, 2016

Review: The Case of the Blonde Bonanza by Erle Stanley Gardener

by Eric

One of the problems in trying to review a mystery is that you can't give away the solution and whether the solution makes sense, is fairly clued, is surprising and clever goes a long way to determining how the reader reacts to the book. The solution to Erle Stanley Gardner's 1940 Perry Mason mystery, The Case of the Blonde Bonanza, meets the criteria, as far as I'm concerned, and that's all I can say!

Another problem in reviewing mysteries is that the victim may not be revealed for several chapters. I hate reviewers giving away the identity of the victim since guessing who will be killed and how is part of the interest of many mysteries. I've given up reading the back covers of mysteries because very often the blurb will leap right into the middle of the story to spill the beans about the murder. As for The Case of the Blonde Bombshell....well, if I admitted I would feel uneasy about saying anything about the murder you might guess that it doesn't take lace on the first age.

So, forget I said that!

What can I say that might entice you to try this novel out?

Consider the initial set-up? Perry Mason's secretary Della Street, while dining every day at an open-air lunchroom on the beach, observes a young woman who has a puzzling routine. After drinking a glass of half milk and half cream she downs a steak, French fried potatoes and a salad, followed by apple pie a la mode and two candy bars. On her way out she checks her weight on the scales by the doorway. Della reckons the girl has gained five pounds in eight day.

When she calls Perry's attention to the mystery it seems simply frivolous. But as Mason observes:

"Apple pie a la mode . . . chocolate malted milk . . . there simply has to be a catch in it somewhere, Della--and there's an irresistible body meeting an immovable bathing suit. Something is bound to happen."

Of course he's right. The naive girl is in trouble and it's Perry Mason to the rescue. (Shades of Travis McGee) The solution to the girl's behavior is weird and interesting and the solution to the murder that follows depends on an intricate dance of suspects coming and going.

It amazes me how Erle Stanley Gardner handles everything from narrative to description in dialogue, but it works, especially in the court room show down. It's been a long time since I graduated from law school, and I never practiced law, but the sparring between the two lawyers and the judge at the preliminary hearing sure sounded authentic to me. Not surprisingly since Gardner did litigation work for a dozen years.

I was never much impressed by the Perry Mason television show. That was one of my parents' shows. Apparently I like Gardener's books better.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: Death On The Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

by Mary

It is four on a January afternoon as we are introduced to a quartet of first year undergraduates attending the all female Persephone College, Oxford: Sally Watson, Daphne Loveridge, Gwyneth Pane, and Nina Harson. They are perched on the roof of the college boathouse, having assembled there for the purpose of inaugurating a secret society to be named the Lode League, the Lode being that part of the River Cherwell on the side of the island on which the college is situated.

The young women have hardly begun to organise the League when a canoe floats downriver, its sole occupant the body of the college Bursar, Miss Myra Denning, who was not popular with the students. Inspector Wythe, later joined by Detective-Inspector Braydon from Scotland Yard, are soon on the job, questioning the quartet and others, including Draga Czernak, an excitable Yugoslavian student who is convinced Miss Denning insulted her, talks about blood feuds, and was the only person to see Miss Denning leave to go on the river. Possible suspects are presented very quickly, but are their motives sufficiently strong to do away with Miss Denning?

Next to appear are Sally's sister and brother-in-law Betty and Basil Pongleton (what a wonderful surname!) as well as the bursar's only relative, her orphaned niece Pamela Exe, an undergraduate at Girton College, Cambridge.

The quartet sitting on the boathouse roof feel called upon to look into the bursar's death, feeling guilty about the fact that, as Sally tells Simon,"The four of us were forming a league to—well, to curse the bursar, and before we’d quite curse the bursar, and before we’d quite finished forming it, she came floating down the river. So now the league is going to try to solve the mystery...." Thus parallel investigations get under way: the police working through official channels and the ladies on the q.t., aided by male student friends at St Simeon's College, located a bit higher up the river.

My verdict: The alert reader may well begin to suspect a certain party once a few chapters have unspooled, but half the fun of getting there is the journey, which in this case involves watching the various investigators at work digging up the necessary information and making deductions from it. The solution to this novel depends on geography and timetables, making it a complicated tale that will need to be approached with attention to details, especially in its later stages. You have been warned!