The Cat-Woman – Erle Stanley Gardner (1927)

Big Bill Ryan knows Ed Jenkins is flat broke. Ed is a crook.  Once his bankers found out, they quietly stole his money assuming he wouldn’t call the cops.  If it’s any consolation to him, they will be jumping out of windows in a couple of years.  I guess Ed wasn’t much of a crook; I don’t remember Don Corleone getting rolled like that.  Bill has a job for Ed and hands him a note.

Two hours after you get this message, meet me at apartment 624, Reedar Arms Apartments.  The door will be open — HMH.

Ed shows up at the address and finds a woman in a negligee despite the fact she knew a man would be there in 2 hours.  Oh, right — I get it.  The woman pulls out a $500 bill and hands it to the guy which is not the transaction I’m used to.  She follows it with 19 others as payment for the guy to do a simple job.  She wants him to steal a necklace, and to kidnap her niece.  She says, “Mr. Jenkins, once you have my niece, you can do anything with her that you want.  You must keep her for 2 days.  After that, you may let her go or keep her.”

He declines.  She counters that the necklace he would be stealing actually belongs to her.  Also, she is the legal guardian of the niece and gives him permission to kidnap her.  Not only that, she will let him meet the niece and she will agree to be kidnapped.  It is just a ruse to get the insurance money for the necklace.  I don’t get the role of the niece . . . although I could be talked into just about anything for $10,000 and a young woman to be named later.[1]  Somehow, Ed has the supernatural reputation of being able to get away with crimes even when caught, so the police aren’t an issue.  Ed agrees to take the gig.

She arose, slipped out of the negligee, and approached the suitcase.  From the suitcase, she took a tailored suit and slipped into it.

That’s it?  These stories might have a better pedigree than the ones in the Spicy Adventure Megapack, but they are a lot less fun.  This is especially maddening from Erle Stanley Gardner.  His books often had really c*ckteasing titles and covers, but the insides never delivered.

The woman drives them to a large house where she introduces Ed to her niece Ellery Queen Jean Ellery.  Jean has inherited the family subtlety and asks, “I understand you are going to kidnap me.  Are you a caveman or do you kidnap ’em gently?”  She says, “Life here is the bunk.”  She is happy to be kidnapped.

The woman explains this is the house of Arthur Holton and she is his personal secretary.  Tomorrow night, he is going to announce their engagement and give her the necklace.  At 9:30, she will pocket the original, let her niece test-drive a fake, and an assistant will grab Jean, tie her up and stow her in the trunk of a car that will be left for Ed.  To convince the insurance company this was a legit robbery, she suggests Ed arrive at the party, announce he was shafted by Holton in a business deal, and wave his gun around at the guests.  He will then escape to a seaside house the woman has rented for him where he and Jean will pose as a married couple.  And, oh yeah, he must not open the trunk until he reaches the cottage.  What the hell is this mysterious Clintonesque Get Out of Jail Free Card he possesses?

He worries about her double-crossing him and calling the cops although showing his face at the party, waiving a gun around, and kidnapping Jean might be enough to get their interest . . . you know, if not for the GOOJFC.  She agrees to write an affidavit explaining everything, have it notarized, and filed with a trust company.  We finally get her name — Hattie M. Hare.[2]  At the lawyer’s office, he catches the lawyer pocketing the signed confessions and handing the trust company an envelope of blank paper.  And here we go.

Of course, “the niece” was not the niece.  The real Jean never trusted her aunt and turns out to be cute, resourceful, and a graduate of stunt driving school.  Hattie grabs Jean and Ed goes Brian Mills on her.  He thinks back to “years I had been a lone wolf, had earned the name The Phantom Crook, one who could slip through the fingers of the police.  There had been a welcome vacation while I enjoyed immunity in California, but now all that had passed.”

Hattie gets away, but Ed saves Jean just as the police show up.  They are ready to haul him in, but everything is explained, showing him to be innocent.  Jean’s rich father vows to see Ed’s “name is cleared of every charge against you in every state, that you are a free man, that you are restored to citizenship.”  Well, it’s all well and good that her fat-cat father will bribe the judiciary in several states, but what had been keeping Ed out of jail all this time?

A pretty good one.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The niece is 20, so that’s not as creepy as it seems.
  • [2] So much attention is devoted to cats — the title, Hattie’s cat-like eyes and movement, a leopard skin Davenport, a tiger rug, a painting of a cat — and Gardner names her after a rabbit?
  • First published in the February 1927 issue of Black Mask.
  • Also that month:  Buster Keaton’s The General is released.
  • The Kindle version repeatedly misspells Erle as Erie.

Honest Money – Erle Stanley Gardner (1932)

Ken Corning, a fighting young lawyer, tries to earn an honest living in a city of graft.

This is the first story in a series following idealistic young lawyer Perry Mason Ken Corning and his assistant Della Street Helen Vail.  They were clearly the prototype for Gardner’s later series, but with less obstruction of justice.  Seriously, I read 3 Perry Mason novels and his primary skill seems to be corrupting the evidence so no jury and few readers could follow it.

Cornings’ first client is Sam Parks.  Rather than simply see the man, the attorney first puts Helen through a ruse where she types pages of nonsense for three minutes and rushes it in to him as if it were 3 hours of billable time.

Sam Parks’ wife has been arrested for running a speakeasy.  Christ, what is this, Prohibition?  Oh.[1]  I like that as the cops busted into his establishment, Parks quickly pretended to be a customer by sitting down at an uncleared table and eating the erstwhile patron’s scraps.  Mrs. Parks, quite a good sport, played along and even collected the bill from him, although that 10% tip will not benefit him later.  She is hauled off to the can, the jug, the slam, the big house, the joint, the hoosegow, the pokey, the clink.

Immediately after Parks leaves, Corning gets a visit from Perkins, the cop who busted the restaurant.  Corning refuses to give him any info on Parks.  He then gets a visit from Carl Dwight.  Lawyers setting up a card table at a bus accident don’t get this much traffic.  Dwight is the local fixer, an operative of the political machine.  He offers Corning a $500 “retainer” to play ball, but Corning throws it back in his face.

After Corning pays a visit to Mrs. Parks at the prison, Mr. Parks calls to say he his coming back into the office.  Unfortunately, Parks is shot twice just outside Corning’s window.  Corning goes down to check things out.[2]  Actually he does show Perry Mason’s proclivity for hindering an investigation.  Among other things, he pockets a newspaper from Parks’ parked car.  There was an article cut out that covered Harry Dike’s appointment as superintendent of the Water Department — presumably no relation to the hairy dykes Mrs. Parks was meeting in prison.

The article said Dike was “firmly opposed to the granting of contracts and concessions to those with political pull, and that in the future the Water Department would be conducted upon a basis of efficiency with all work thrown open to the lowest responsible bidder.”  How was he not the one shot?  There is good reason as this seemingly virtuous Water Department jefe is just another thug.  He had been in a car accident with Mrs. Parks, while he was traveling with Carl Dwight the political fixer he was supposed to oppose.  She made trouble and had to be dealt with.  That’s Chinatown, Jake.

Mason Corning ties it all together and the story wraps up with yet more characters, a meeting in a restaurant, some counterfeiting hijinks, and even Corning getting off a few gunshots.  Despite being written 85 years ago, the writing has a contemporary feel. Gardner is able to make a raft of characters and an intertwining plot simple enough that I only had to read it twice to understand it.

Another good entry, although I miss the titular spiciness of the Spicy Adventure Megapack.


  • [1] 1920 – 1933.
  • [2] In a sign of the times, he stands out in the crowd because he is hatless.
  • First published in Black Mask in November 1932.
  • Also that month:  FDR first elected.
  • When he died in 1970, Gardner was the best-selling author in history.