Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club


by Erle Stanley Gardner

The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933) introduces criminal defense lawyer and detective Perry Mason and Della Street, his secretary. Perry is hired by Eva Belter, who’s being blackmailed and soon falls under suspicion for murder.

The book sets the stage for one of the most popular series in crime fiction history. Author Erle Stanley Gardner went on to write 150 books that sold 300 million copies worldwide.

Read: Buy it on Amazon. (Read time: ~4 hours)

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The Case of the Velvet Claws - Tea, Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast

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The Case of the Velvet Claws:
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The Case of the Velvet Claws - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast
Perry Mason - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast
The Case of the Velvet Claws - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast

The Case of the Velvet Claws

Here are some conversation starters and questions to get you thinking about The Case of the Velvet Claws!

Book Comparison – The Case of the Velvet Claws vs. The Maltese Falcon

Two books leap to mind as a comparison to Velvet Claws. The first is The Maltese Falcon. The second is The Innocence of Father Brown. In many ways, The Case of the Velvet Claws mirrors The Maltese Falcon. There’s a hardboiled detective in a sparsely furnished office, his Girl Friday faithful secretary, and a vicious, double-crossing, beautiful lady client. Each secretary even chides him on his behavior. Della Street is Effie Perine-like. Her eyes see far below the surface.

Then the contrasts begin. Effie Perine in The Maltese Falcon is totally taken in by the wonderful Miss Wonderly. Her feminine intuition is way off. Della immediately hates Eva Belter and spends most of the book excoriating her. 

When both secretaries chide their “chief,” it’s for not doing enough for their client. When Effie scolds Sam, Effie doesn’t understand that Wonderly is a cold-blooded murderer and feels that Sam betrayed her by turning her over to the cops. When Della scolds Perry Mason in The Case of the Velvet Claws, she understands exactly what Eva is but feels that Perry has somehow betrayed himself and his own ethics.

In The Maltese Falcon, Wonderly is Sam’s love interest, the woman he’s drawn to in spite of everything. One feels that if he ever wanted to settle down into a stable domestic life, he should probably go for an Effie, but that’s not who he is, and Effie’s love goes unrequited. 

Perry, on the other hand, ignores several of Eva’s attempts at flirtation. Instead, it’s Della who he loves and whose respect he craves. 

Whereas Spade can blow Effie off for being on the wrong track, Perry pleads with Della to have confidence in him.

What Most Attorneys Are Like …

In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Mason tells Eva, “Most of the attorneys that you’ve consulted have had expensive suites of offices and a lot of clerks running in and out. You’ve paid them big money and haven’t had anything much to show for it. They’ve bowed and scraped when you came in the room, and charged you big retainers. But when you get in a real jam you don’t dare to go to them.”

“I’m different. I get my business because I fight for it, and because I fight for my clients. … People that come to me don’t come to me because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me.”

Love Interest

Perry Mason feels much less broken than Sam Spade. Sam struggles to relate to women outside of a romantic liaison. He chooses the beautiful psychopath.

In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Perry sees his clients for what they are, holds no illusions about them, and chooses the girl who, when her family lost all their means, learned a trade and went to work. He spends the end of the book leaving Della’s lipstick on his face and telling Eva exactly how little she means to him personally.

Book Comparison – The Case of the Velvet Claws vs. Father Brown

In The Innocence of Father Brown, Father Brown was uninterested in legal justice. He never tried to arrest anyone. He was after repentance. He wanted criminals to confess, to feel convicted, to change their ways.

Perry Mason is so focused on legal justice, at times he seems somewhat detached from the reality of a situation. Justice is defined as legal justice, and legal justice requires that two opposing attorneys give a case everything they have. The law is designed to lean toward letting the guilty go free over convicting the innocent (this is a type 2 error). Thus, the defendant must only prove a reasonable doubt. 

Perry goes to all lengths to prove a reasonable doubt and gives his clients everything he has to establish one, even if it means setting up the innocent, holding things over people, lies and deception, etc. 

In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Perry Mason seems to hold loyalty to the interest of his client, and a commitment to legal justice, as the highest moral good. (“I never went back on a client yet, guilty or innocent,” Mason said. “I’m trying to remember that. But, by God! It’s a temptation to walk out on you!”) This is a legal concept I’ve long been interested in. The moral justification for defending a criminal being the belief that everyone deserves to have their case made on their behalf with the strength they would make it themselves, had they the legal training.

Perry follows this path to find the truth. But ultimately, the truth doesn’t seem to matter to him. At least not as much as duty to his side of justice. It just so happened that Eva didn’t shoot her husband, even though she thought she did and confessed to the crime. Do you think Perry would have acted any differently if she had actually committed the crime?

Truth & Justice

In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Della says, “[Y]ou insist on being loyal to your clients, no matter how rotten they are.”

“Of course,” he told her. “That’s my duty.”

“To your profession?”

“No,” he said slowly, “to myself. I’m a paid gladiator. I fight for my clients. Most clients aren’t square shooters. That’s why they’re clients. They’ve got themselves into trouble. It’s up to me to get them out. I have to shoot square with them. I can’t always expect them to shoot square with me.”

“It isn’t fair!” she blazed.

“Of course not,” he smiled. “It’s business.”

Drake tells Mason, “I wouldn’t give her any consideration whatever. “She’s just a two-timing little tart that saw a chance to marry money, did it, and has been giving everybody the double-cross ever since. You can talk all you want to about your duty to a client, but when the client starts framing a murder rap on you, that’s different.”

Mason surveyed the detective with heavy eyes. “That’s neither here nor there. I’m going to save her.”

Do you agree with Perry’s moral code? Or are you more of a Father Brown thinker? Does Perry’s code hold up as moral? Or is it more of a justification for a good fee, and disinterest in the client’s guilt or innocence?

Heedless and Headstrong

The Case of the Velvet Claws, Perry Mason seems to take everything personally. Mason hurls George Belter’s butler into a wall. When a Spicy Bits reporter asks Mason details about his meeting with Harrison Burke. Mason leads with his fist.

Mason also sometimes seems heedless and headstrong.

“He’ll ruin you,” Eva sobbed. “He’ll find every lawsuit that you’ve got, and accuse you of jury bribing, of suborning perjury, and of unprofessional conduct. He’ll hound you out of the city.”

“Do you know what you are doing? Do you know what you’re getting into? They’ll kill you! It wouldn’t be the first time. They’ve got affiliations in the underworld with gangsters and gunmen.”

Lawyer as Detective

We’ve certainly not seen this development before. How did you feel about this legal work in The Case of the Velvet Claws? It certainly feels very far from legal work today. Tracking down the guy running a blackmail sheet and bribing him if necessary? 

The Della Street Switcharoo

Throughout The Case of the Velvet Claws, Della hates Eva Belter. She can hardly stand to be in the same room with her. She continuously tells Perry what bad news she is and how he shouldn’t let himself be dragged in on murder suspicion. “I hate her!” Della Street said fervently. “I wish you’d never seen her. She isn’t worth the money. If we made ten times as much money out of it, she still wouldn’t be worth it. I told you just what she was—all velvet and claws!”

But then, when Eva tries to make Perry a murder suspect and Perry hands over Eva’s confession, Della is shocked! She lectures him over not being faithful to a client. 

What’s going on here? Is Della, dare we say, JEALOUS?


Sarah says that in England, you can have absolutely no money and high society standing. Or you can be wealthy and looked down upon. America seems to simplify it. Money = High Society. (Carolyn wonders if it’s more of an East Egg vs. West Egg Great Gatsby-like situation in 1933 America.) In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Della Street, who comes from money, is treated like a servant by Eva. George Belter is considered a gentleman by Harrison Burke, even though he is a blackmailer and a thug. This creates different kinds of class frustration. So … let’s talk class. What’s going on here?


“I hate everything [Eva] stands for!” said Della Street. “I’ve had to work for everything I got. I never got a thing in life that I didn’t work for. And lots of times I’ve worked for things and have had nothing in return. That woman is the type that has never worked for anything in her life! She doesn’t give a damned thing in return for what she gets. Not even herself.”

Perry Mason pursed his lips thoughtfully. “And all of this outburst is occasioned just because you gave her the once-over and didn’t like the way she was dressed?” he asked.

“I liked the way she was dressed. She’s dressed like a million dollars. Those clothes she had on cost somebody a lot of money. And you can bet that she wasn’t the one that paid for them. She’s too well-kept, too well-groomed, too baby faced. Did you notice that trick she has of making her eyes wide when she wants to impress you? She’s practiced that baby stare in front of a mirror.”

He watched her with eyes that were suddenly deep and enigmatical. “If all clients had your loyalty, Della, there wouldn’t be any law business. Don’t forget that. You’ve got to take clients as they come. You’re different. Your family was rich. Then they lost their money. You went to work. Lots of women wouldn’t have done that.”

Her eyes were wistful once more.

“What would they have done?” she asked. “What could they have done?”

“They could,” he remarked slowly, “have married a man, and then gone out to the Beechwood Inn with some other man, got caught, and had to get a lawyer to get them out of the jam.”

Said Norma, “those are the cups and saucers that are kept for the chauffeurs and servants.”

“These are police officers,” said Mrs. Veitch. “They’re just the same.” 

“No, they aren’t, Mother,” said Norma.

“You know what the master would have said had he been alive. He’d have given them nothing.”


In The Case of the Velvet Claws, Harrison Burke’s “record in Congress had been mediocre, but he had identified himself as “The Friend of the People” by sponsoring legislation which a clique of politicians pushed through the house, knowing that it would never pass the upper body, or, if it did, that it would be promptly vetoed by the President.”

“He was planning his campaign for the Senate by adroitly seeking to interest the more substantial class of citizens and impress them with the fact that he was, at heart, conservative. He was trying to do this without in any way sacrificing his following among the common people, or his reputation as being a friend of the people.”

About Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller from the 19th and 20th centuries. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolved.


Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

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