The seventeenth novel in Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason series stands out in some respects from the other eighty-four books in the series. Most importantly, this is the book that finally introduces Lieutenant Tragg of Homicide, who will become Mason's principal adversary on the police force from now on.
Previously, Mason's foil in the police department had been the bumbling Sergeant Holcomb. Holcomb was a very physical guy who often attempted to get his way by pushing people around. He wasn't above manipulating evidence if he thought it would improve his chances of making a case, and he really wasn't very bright. Mason generally ran circles around him without even breaking a sweat.
Gardner apparently decided that Mason needed a more worthy adversary and so introduced Tragg who in many ways is Holcomb's polar opposite. He uses his brains rather than his physical strength. He's clever, soft spoken and is able to sneak up on a suspect and get him or her in hot water before the suspect even realizes what has happened. He and Mason respect each other and Tragg always plays above board. But he's bright and determined, and Mason will have to step up his game a bit after dealing with Holcomb.
This story is also a bit unique in that it takes a while for Mason to finally appear. Most of these novels begin with a potential client showing up at Perry's office looking to retain his services and so Mason is most often present from the very first page. In this case, though, there's quite a bit of activity before Mason steps into the situation.
Also, Mason's detective, Paul Drake, basically has no role in this book. Mason calls him and asks him to run down some information for him, but otherwise he does not appear. Finally, unlike most of the other books in the series, there's only one very minor court scene in this book. Mason demonstrates his brilliance, not by cross examining witnesses and pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the courtroom, but rather by doing his own detecting and solving the case himself.
The case involves a woman named Mildred Faulkner who owns and operates three successful flower shops. Her partner in the stores is her sister, Carlotta, but Carlotta has been ill and out of action for several months, leaving Mildred to run things by herself. Mildred and Carlotta own all the stock in the corporation, save for a few shares that they gave to an early employee. Now, one of their competitors has managed to get his hands on those shares and intends to use them to chisel his way into their business.
Obviously concerned, Mildred goes to see Carlotta. Her sister's affairs are now being handled by her husband, Bob, who Mildred never liked. Bob is an irresponsible lout who plays the horses and who may be playing around on his sick wife, but Carlotta is blinded by love and can't see through Bob the way Mildred does.
Mildred tells Bob that she want's Carlotta's stock certificates so that she can take all the certificates to a lawyer and attempt to deal with the threat to her company. But Bob weasels around and Mildred suddenly realizes that he may have turned Carlotta's certificates over to a gambler as collateral for a debt. Now thoroughly panicked, Mildred contacts Perry Mason and gets him on the case. But before you can say, "Della Street," somebody's dead and Mildred is in even more trouble than she could have possibly imagined. We can only hope that Mason will be able to save the day.
This is one of the better books in the series and it moves along at a good pace. It's nice to finally have Lieutenant Tragg on the job and watching him and Mason match wits through the rest of the books is one of the pleasures of the series. A fun reread.