Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. He became a prolific writer; among his many works was “The Canon”, revered for its record of the exploits of the famous British detective, Sherlock Holmes, consisting of 56 short stories and four novels. After a very successful career, Doyle died in England in 1930.
Another writer with a middle name, Erle Stanley Gardner, was born thirty years after Doyle, in Malden, Massachusetts in the USA, in the year 1889. Gardner was also a prolific writer; he turned out 80 novels featuring the criminal defense attorney, Perry Mason, and also wrote 30 Cool and Lam detective novels under the pen name A.A. Fair, plus many other works. Generally, he is considered to be a writer of “pulp fiction”. Gardner died in 1970 in Temecula, California, a desert resort town south of Los Angeles.
There are a some interesting similarities between Doyle and Gardner and the people they wrote about, Holmes and Mason.
Holmes was a detective, and Mason an attorney. Mason’s cases generally involved quite a bit of detective work. Typically, Mason’s clients were falsely charged with a crime, usually murder. Mason would get them off by identifying the real killer in dramatic fashion in courtroom scenes. Like Holmes, Mason “played it close to the vest”, often leaving his associates (and the readers) puzzled about what he knew and what he planned. Rather than doing his own sleuthing, Mason employed Paul Drake, a friend and a P.I., owner of the Drake Detective Agency.
Many of Doyle’s stories were first published in magazines, notably the Strand in London. The longer novels were serialized. Gardner’s novels were often serialized in the Saturday Evening Post prior to publication as books.
Doyle took an interest in real-life convicted criminals who appeared to be victims of overzealous police and prosecutors. He worked personally on two actual cases and secured the release of prisoners who had been falsely convicted. The resulting publicity and Doyle’s advocacy led to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal in England and Wales, an addition to the official court system that provided important safeguards for the accused.
Gardner, writing in Argosy, a men’s crime and adventure magazine, created a private organization known as the Court of Last Resort. It consisted of Gardner himself and an impressive group of legal and criminal investigation experts he recruited, including a former FBI investigator, a criminologist, a lie detector expert, a detective and forensic expert, and a prison psychologist. While not part of any official or government organization, with the publicity generated by the popular magazine, actions of the “Court” freed at least 15 people who had been wrongly convicted of crimes from the late 1940’s until 1960.
Like Holmes, Mason often took on cases that he found to be of singular interest, remitting his fees altogether.
Like Holmes, Mason did not seem to have much interest in, or devote any time to the fair sex. (Mason did have an attractive assistant, Della Street, but their relationship was always businesslike and respectful, and never blossomed into anything more.) Mason was a bachelor and seemed to live for his work alone.
Mason often had to deal with a policeman, Lt. Tragg, who tended to be hard-working and tenacious, but often wrong, not too different from Lestrade, whom Holmes dealt with on many cases.
So how did McMurdo’s Camp become interested in Perry Mason and Erle Stanley Gardner? Besides a mis-spent youth reading about both Holmes and Mason, more recently a couple of sawyers in the Camp were sitting around the stove last winter discussing one of the Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Second Stain (SECO), and commented on the somewhat alliterative title. This led to the observation that two more Adventures shared names with similar attributes, namely The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist (SOLI) and The Adventure of the Dying Detective (DYIN). The discussion quickly slid into the Perry Mason novels, many of which have names of this sort. Here are a few (note that these were called cases, not adventures):
The Case of the Singing Skirt
The Case of the Daring Decoy
The Case of the Mythical Monkeys
The Case of the Waylaid Wolf
The Case of the Duplicate Daughter
The Case of the Shapely Shadow
The Case of the Spurious Spinster
The Case of the Amorous Aunt
The Case of the Phantom Fortune
The Case of the Troubled Trustee
The Case of the Queenly Contestant
The Case of the Daring Divorcee
Not all the Perry Mason stories had names like this, but a very large number of them did. This list is just a sampling.
In case you were worried, we are not going to go on and try to demonstrate that Della Street and Paul Drake were the illegitimate grandchildren of Mycroft Holmes and Julia Stoner, or anything like that. We just thought some of the parallels are interesting. Overall, there can be no doubt that Sherlock Holmes has a great deal more staying power than Perry Mason, despite the popular long-running television show starring Raymond Burr as Mason.