“This is once,” he said, “that not only does Perry Mason’s client have her neck in the noose, but the great Perry Mason put it there.”
Lola Allred needs a lawyer—but why? Perry Mason often receives retainer checks in the mail from potential clients. What is unusual is to receive two $2,500 checks from the same person drawn on two different banks. One is forged, one genuine, neither explaining what he’s been hired for.
When Mason goes looking for Lola, she’s nowhere to be found. Her husband says she’s run off with another man. Mason’s not so sure. The deeper he digs, the more dirt he finds on the wealthy Allred family. It seems that nobody’s hands are clean in this case, and it will take all of Mason’s legal wiles to uncover the truth
The Case of the Lazy Lover combines one of the purest puzzle mysteries in the Perry Mason series (there’s even a map, and you’ll need it) with one of the most frustrating endings. My favorite thing about this series is its unpredictability. At the beginning of each book, Mason encounters something strange and, from there, absolutely anything can happen. Here, everything happens. It seems impossible that all of these tangled threads could come together into a single solution…and they kind of don’t.
With that said, there is quite a bit of fun to be had along the way. Perry Mason, his secretary Della Street, and private investigator Paul Drake set out to find Lola and her alleged paramour Robert Fleetwood. Lola’s husband Bertrand is involved in a lawsuit alleging fraudulent business practices. The testimony of his right-hand man Fleetwood is vital to his defense. He claims he doesn’t care about getting his wife back, only Fleetwood. Mason has his doubts about the whole setup.
Mason said, “I don’t need to draw you a diagram, Paul. Police records are full of cases of wealthy wives who disappear, husbands who think up one story and then another. It all follows a pattern.”
“You mean the husband bops the wife over the head, puts the body in the cellar, pours on a little cement, and then tell the neighbors his spouse has gone to visit ‘Aunt Mary’?”
“That’s the general idea.”
“In this case there’s a second person, Fleetwood.”
“It may be a big cellar.”
Mason and his crew pursue a strange couple, who may or may not be Lola and Fleetwood, from one motel to the next. This pair stands out because the male partner is so lazy that the woman has to do everything. Not exactly the attitude of a man in love. Meanwhile, there is a mystery woman running around withdrawing cash from Lola Allred’s bank account—supposedly with written permission from Lola, but could that be a forgery, too? This case is pretty complicated even before a corpse shows up.
The process of locating the mystery woman, and how they determine her true identity, is fascinating. There is a detailed plan to evade police surveillance using Los Angeles’ interurban railway, or “red cars,” and capture a suspect with the eager assistance of receptionist Gertie. In another nice period detail, a telephone operator remembers a call because, to her annoyance, the caller would not wait to take it even though it only took four minutes to connect them with their party. The highlight of the book is the map, which leads to a meticulous examination of tire tracks and footprints.
The seemingly random structure of the book, with the detectives wandering from clue to clue, allows for plenty of small and interesting digressions, including a public service announcement from Paul Drake about the dangers of parking in front of a fire hydrant.
In case there’s a fire these boys get to the fire plug all right. It’s kind of tough on your automobile, but they get there. I saw one car that had been left locked in front of a fire plug. There was a fire and the fire department just chopped a hole in both sides of the car, put the hose right on through, and went to work. When the owner came back, he had a car with a tunnel chopped through it and tickets for overtime parking and tickets for parking in front of a fire plug.
The more you know!
The Case of the Lazy Lover is firing on all cylinders until the very end. While there is technically a solution to the case, in the final chapter Mason presents an alternative theory of the crime’s method. His explanation does not quite match with the physical evidence that was just explored in such detail and he never attempts to explain the discrepancy. As Mason points out, “It’s up to the police to decide that. The only thing we’re supposed to do it get [our client] off.” Yet it’s disconcerting to be left feeling uncertain of what really happened. Did I miss something, or did Gardner? Maybe the lover isn’t the only lazy one here.
And believe me, there is some very clever stuff here. Gardner’s hook of the duplicated cheque goes into great detail about how to establish a false identity (in 1947 terms, of course, when picture ID and PINs were unheard of). We also learn a useful method of forging signatures. There’s a fascinating way of getting people to sell you back the stock in your own company that involves telling them the absolute truth. We learn how to sort the letters for a busy lawyer and what one does on the night shift at a parking garage. We learn about footprints and tracking. And I have to say that the solution, and the identity of the murderer, is one of the cleverest in ESG’s oeuvre.
The Case of the Lazy Lover is out of print, with used copies widely available. It was adapted for the Perry Mason television series in 1958 (Season 1, Episode 35); the episode is included with Amazon Prime.