Long before television’s Perry Mason defended Paul Drake on a murder charge, his novelistic forbear took on an even more unexpected client in this 1942 case.
In the 10 years since banker Franklin B. Shore disappeared, his niece, Helen Kendal, has often wished that her Aunt Matilda, the wife Franklin abandoned, would have him declared legally dead so that his will could be probated and the $20,000 he’d promised to leave Helen, who’d like to marry Army Pvt. Jerry Templar instead of George Alber, the mate her aunt has chosen for her, could be paid out. But Matilda has always insisted that her husband was still alive, and now it looks as if she may have been right. A telephone caller claiming to be Franklin asks Helen to set up a meeting with Perry Mason through one Henry Leech at the run-down Castle Gate Hotel. When Mason, Helen, and Franklin’s brother, attorney Gerald Shore, arrive at the rendezvous, however, there’s no sign of Franklin—just a dead body sitting in a car, someone who’s presumably Henry Leech. Things are no better back home, where first Amber Eyes, the family kitten, then Matilda Shore have been poisoned with strychnine. Though both of them survive, Lt. Tragg, a feisty adversary who debuted only two years earlier, demands answers from Mason. When Tragg finds Amber Eyes in the apartment of Della Street, Mason’s faithful secretary, he arrests Della, and Mason’s longtime nemesis, D.A. Hamilton Burger, convinced that Della has also hidden away Franklin Shore, puts her on trial, not for murder, but for concealing a material witness. Luckily, her lawyer is the best in the business.
No one has ever matched Gardner for swift, sure exposition, and this vintage case shows America’s lawyer taking on a delightfully unexpected role. There's strong supporting work by the eponymous kitten, to boot.