The Case of the Velvet Claws: The First of the Perry Mason Books
In The Case of the Velvet Claws, published in 1933, we meet criminal defense lawyer and detective Perry Mason for the first time. He’s hired by Eva Belter, who’s being blackmailed. Mason’s secretary, Della Street, says Eva’s “all velvet and claws.” Gardner went on to write 80 Perry Mason books and 150 books total, which sold 300 million copies worldwide.
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Podcast Transcript: The Case of the Velvet Claws: The First of the Perry Mason Books
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:57
Good afternoon, Carolyn.
Carolyn Daughters 0:59
Wow. So formal.
Sarah Harrison 1:02
What do you mean? I’m always like that.
Carolyn Daughters 1:04
You are actually very formal all the time. Greetings, my friend.
Sarah Harrison 1:12
What book are we talking about today?
Carolyn Daughters 1:14
The Case of the Velvet Claws, which is the very first of the Perry Mason books. And I have to say, I loved it. I had never read Perry Mason, though I’d seen the shows and seen the Hulu series.
Sarah Harrison 1:36
I hadn’t either. And it wasn’t at all how I remember the TV show, but I really did like it. But before we jump into it, I want to talk about a sponsor that I really like, Linden Botanicals. They’re wonderful. We like them very much. They are a Colorado-based company that sells the world’s healthiest herbal teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science-based support for stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, digestion, and inflammation. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more, visit lindenbotanicals.com and use the code MYSTERY to get 15% off your first order. Do it. They have excellent products, actually.
Carolyn Daughters 2:29
They do. And they’re one of our favorite sponsors, for sure. We also have a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 2:39
It’s a very cool listener.
Carolyn Daughters 2:42
Gary Braver, author of an amazing book that we just read called Rumor of Evil. We have a separate conversation with him in an another podcast episode. So look for that. Gary Braver is his pen name. His real name is Gary Goshgarian from Arlington, Massachusetts. Thank you for being a member of the Tea Tonic & Toxin book club. To show our appreciation, we’re going to send you a very cool Tea Tonic & Toxin sticker.
Sarah Harrison 3:19
It’s a glorious sticker, and Gary was a glorious guest.
Carolyn Daughters 3:22
Super interesting conversation.
Sarah Harrison 3:24
Check out that conversation if you haven’t already. It’s a special episode.
Carolyn Daughters 3:29
And check out his book Rumor of Evil. If you’d like your own on-air shout out, and you should because it’s fun.
Sarah Harrison 3:41
Why wouldn’t you? What’s wrong with you?
Carolyn Daughters 3:43
If you want your own shout out and an awesome sticker, weigh in on the books we’re reading on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com, or on our Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin and Facebook page @teatonicandtoxin. We also appreciate your reviews … as Sarah would put it …
Sarah Harrison 4:03
Carolyn Daughters 4:05
On Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to Tea Tonic & Toxin. Your reviews help likeminded listeners find us, and your reviews mean everything to us.
Sarah Harrison 4:14
And if you are a Spotify listener, we are having some new interaction features coming up. So be sure to answer our Q&As and take our polls. We would love to hear from you. We would love to award you with stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 4:32
They’re really cool. So Sarah, tell us about this book.
Sarah Harrison 4:36
I will do it. The Case of Velvet Claws is the first of the Perry Mason books in the series by Erle Stanley Gardner. Published in 1933, the story introduces defense lawyer Perry Mason and his secretary, Della Street. The story begins when a woman named Eva Griffin comes to Mason, seeking representation. She and her lover were at a nightclub when a murder occurred, and she’s afraid of being blackmailed by a tabloid called Spicy Bits. I like that name, by the way. Perry Mason quickly realizes Eva tells more lies than truths. For example, her real name is Eva Belter, and the Spicy Bits scandal sheet is owned by her husband, George Belter. When George Belter is murdered, Perry Mason himself falls under suspicion, thanks to Eva. Perry Mason works to solve the murder, protect Eva Belter, and clear his name. Drawing upon his wit and his legal acumen, he ultimately uncovers the murderer’s identity. The story showcases Perry Mason’s dogged determination and dedication to justice, traits that will define his character throughout the Perry Mason books. Today, we are excited to talk about The Case of the Velvet Claws, which sets the stage for one of the most popular series in crime fiction history. It’s our 10th book selection of 2023. You can find more information about The Case of Velvet Claws and all our 2023 book selections at teatonicandtoxin.com. Do it.
Carolyn Daughters 6:10
Our tenth book?
Sarah Harrison 6:13
Yes, our tenth book of just this year, which is our second year. And we’re getting ready very soon to publish all our book selections for next year.
Carolyn Daughters 6:24
I’m so excited about that, by the way.
Sarah Harrison 6:26
Carolyn Daughters 6:27
It’s one of my favorite new rituals, to look over our book list and then get all of the books. They arrive to the house or I go to the bookstore and get them. And then I have 12 of them for the coming year. And I look at them longingly.
Sarah Harrison 6:48
I like to line them up on my bookshelf. Our glorious little book club in chronological order.
Carolyn Daughters 6:56
So this book, The Case of the Velvet Claws, is the first of the Perry Mason books in the series. It’s a quick read. It’s pretty short.
Sarah Harrison 7:01
Yeah, it is. I really liked it. Although I think you and I had the same thought in and that it was in so many ways like The Maltese Falcon.
Carolyn Daughters 7:13
I think that says maybe less about this book and more about The Maltese Falcon. How deeply it influenced so many other books. The writing style is kind of similar. It’s clean and crisp. And some of the plot elements ring similar to me as well. Oh, you have a different cover than I have.
Sarah Harrison 7:36
I do, yeah. We both have vintage copies. Yours has a lady face, and mine has a severed hand. I thought maybe a severed hand would play into it, but it doesn’t. There’s praise snippets in these old books as well. And I thought this one was really apropos. It says, “Plenty of originality and amazing gusto. Keep your eye on Gardner, along with Hammett. He is the white hope of the American detective story.” From The Philadelphia Record. It was a it was funny to me that they compared Gardner to Hammett. This first of the Perry Mason books in the series was a lot like The Maltese Falcon, but almost in a mirror image kind of way. If you wanted to rewrite The Maltese Falcon to go in some different directions …
Carolyn Daughters 8:39
Right, because we have this main investigator. In this case, Perry Mason is an attorney, but he’s also a detective. And then he has his Girl Friday, Della Street. And in The Maltese Falcon, we have Effie Perine.
Sarah Harrison 8:58
Effie to Sam Spade, Della to Perry Mason. And both have a two-timing, evil lady, beautiful client walk into their office.
Carolyn Daughters 9:11
A very self-serving, “in it for herself,” “do anything to save herself” kind of lady.
Sarah Harrison 9:18
Effie falls for it from minute one. Effie is like, Miss Wonderly is wonderful. And Della hates the woman, Eva Belter, from minute one. She’s like, I want to claw her face off. She is the worst. And Della is the one who actually coins the name of the book. She refers to Eva as just like a velvet claw.
Carolyn Daughters 9:45
This relationship has its parallels and also its differences with Sam Spade and Effie Perine. I felt like Effie was the moral voice of The Maltese Falcon. She’s sort of the straight line with the humanity behind it. Whereas Sam Spade is all business, it seems. And then Perry Mason comes across that way in large part until such time as we realize he’s got a bigger picture in mind. He understands what’s going on with his client and that he will protect his client at all costs. And then his relationship with Della seems to have a little more romance behind it.
Sarah Harrison 10:32
Oh, certainly. Look at Sam Spade’s and Perry Mason’s choices, right? One of the mirror images of the book is that Sam falls for the vicious psychopath, Miss Wonderly. She’s a beautiful killer, and he knows it, but he still feels himself sucked into it. That’s the kind of lady he goes for. And then his partner’s wife, Iva, was also trouble. Hot trouble. So Effie kind of languishes there. But Perry, he has no illusions about his clients whatsoever. He says, “They come to me because they’re a mess. And if everyone was like you, Della, nobody would need legal services.”
Carolyn Daughters 11:27
Right. There would be no crime. Everything would be lovely. And rainbows in the sky and everything perfect.
Sarah Harrison 11:34
At least in this first of the Perry Mason books in the series, Perry Mason prefers for his love interest the fantastic Della Street, which was a nice twist. Because I felt like myself that in The Maltese Falcon I was rooting for Effie. I wanted Effie to get a little bit more justice rather than being like, “ah, you silly kid.
Carolyn Daughters 11:55
Yes, but would you want to be in a relationship with Sam Spade?
Sarah Harrison 12:02
No, he’s clearly broken. He’s a broken man.
Carolyn Daughters 12:06
Part of me wanted Sam Spade to truly see Effie but also have Effie know there’s something better out there for her.
Sarah Harrison 12:15
That’s the story of Beauty and the Beast though, right? That beauty can tame the beast. It’s an archetype, right? Where you think Effie can tame Sam Spade. She’d be the great girl that can redeem him. And the story of Sam Spade is that’s not him. He’s not going to get redeemed.
Carolyn Daughters 12:36
But there’s also that trope of the woman I date, and the woman I marry. Effie would be the woman you marry.
Sarah Harrison 12:43
If he was going to ever marry. But I don’t think Sam Spade would.
Carolyn Daughters 12:47
Yeah, Sam does not seem like the marrying type. I don’t see him settling down with a wife and children.
Sarah Harrison 12:52
I think he wouldn’t, because that’s not him. But I also think he wouldn’t because I think he liked Effie. He loves Effie. She’s kind of his best friend. And to ruin things with Effie would be intolerable for him. And he would ruin it
Carolyn Daughters 13:12
Now, Sam Spade can blow Effie off, but Perry Mason really wants Della to have confidence in him. I wanted to ask you about that, because both men seem to blow these women off at times. They can brush them off as, “Oh, is that a hunch? Is that your feminine instincts talking?” They both seem dismissive of what these women say. And these women, in large part, know what they’re talking about.
Sarah Harrison 13:44
Well, Effie was dead wrong about Miss Wonderly. Effie was dead wrong. Della was dead, right. But Perry Mason spent all his time explaining to Della that it doesn’t matter. And it was a little overdone, in my opinion. On every other page, Perry Mason is patiently telling Della Street about his moral code. Even though Della wants to kill Eva Belter, Della can’t stand looking at her, she’s telling him to drop her. And Perry is just like, Della, as you know, my job is to be loyal to my clients. That is what this is. That is our business, and they are paying us, and we will do it. And that’s his duty to justice. I wouldn’t call Della so much as a dismissal because he never once think she’s wrong. He’s just explaining to her that it doesn’t matter that she’s right. He still has to act in a certain way.
Carolyn Daughters 14:47
This is the first book of the Perry Mason books, the first book in the series. Perry Mason and Della Street have probably been together for some period of time, working together. But because this is the first novel in the series, there’s a whole lot of explication about, this is why I work the way I do, this is why I take clients the way I do, his is why I feel this way. We see this in first novels and series a lot of the time where there’s a lot of explication. The first thing I do when I’m reading a book, at least for this podcast, is I try to figure out what point of view are we coming from? Whose head are we in? For this book, I put “third-person repetitive.”
Sarah Harrison 15:36
Okay, tell me more.
Carolyn Daughters 15:39
The same things are repeated over and over and over again, I think, so the reader really gets what the deal is with Perry Mason with his personal ethos, with how he works. At one point, Perry Mason is talking to Locke, who is a publisher of Spicy Bits, and he repeats something to Locke, and Locke basically says to him, “Yes, I know, you’ve said that several times now.” I underlined that because I think what’s going to happen later in the series is that Erle Stanley Gardner, the author, is going to have more trust in the reader to get it without having to repeat it. The repetitions didn’t bother me so much as I noted them. I was aware of them. Perry Mason says over and over again that he hates paying blackmail. He repeats this idea over and over, and Eva Belter says, “Yeah, I know.” I laughed when I read because that’s all he had been saying to her repeatedly for the last three pages.
Sarah Harrison 16:57
It’s funny that multiple characters in the book are pointing that out.
Carolyn Daughters 17:01
Yes. And I didn’t know if that was an inside wink or something. But I do notice that in a first novel in a series, a lot of time is understandably spent setting up the relationships. This is who I am. This is how I think. This is how I interact with this other character who will be in all the subsequent books. There is a lot of that,.
Sarah Harrison 17:31
We’re reading a lot of times the first book in a series. Do you think the author knew they were gonna make a series out of it? Or was it spurred on by popularity?
Carolyn Daughters 17:43
That’s a great question. I think it probably goes either way. It depends on the author. If the author is established in the publishing field, and then they take on this book, they may be thinking this is going to be a series. We didn’t get a Sam Spade series for The Maltese Falcon, for example. We do get a Perry Mason series in 82 novels in the series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 18:03
But didn’t you say the Continental Op had several books?
Carolyn Daughters 18:07
Yes. The Continental Op is in several books.
Sarah Harrison 18:10
The Continental Op from Red Harvest.
Carolyn Daughters 18:14
Think about The Maltese Falcon. I would have read the next nine books in that series. But Dashiell Hammett, for one reason or another, chose to make that a standalone book. Whereas I think that the series concept that Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, the Sherlock Holmes series — there’s a lot of value to be had in the storytelling. And also you get to evolve these characters. In the right author’s hands, you get to know these characters because the author is getting to know these characters.
Sarah Harrison 19:01
That was one of the interesting aspects of our conversation with Gary Braver. He was talking about how, in many instances, the publisher is encouraging the creation of a series as being a successful path. It made me think back about the history all the way, really even if you think about it, all the way back to Poe. C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s detective, was in a number of his stories. But even in a different way, you have Dickens, who might be publishing one work, but it’s in a serial format. So there’s this incredibly long history of creating these multiple series and exploring these characters further.
Carolyn Daughters 19:48
Ultimately, an author wants an audience, right? Otherwise, we would just write in a journal and put it in a drawer at night or type it up on our computer and close out the document. We want an audience. I think it’s an interesting concept to have an audience that follows a longer journey. A television show rather than a standalone movie.
Sarah Harrison 20:11
Well, and as a reader, I have to say, there’s some series that are just beloved to me. When I think about Dune, or I think about Foundation. You and I were talking earlier about a series that was going on so long that the author passed away and someone else had to finish the series. You know what I’m talking about, Wheel of Time fans. But you get into this series, and when the series ends it’s like a death.
Carolyn Daughters 20:45
Yeah, it’s like a friend. Very much. I feel that to some degree with the Sue Grafton mystery novels, the Kinsey Millhone protagonist. Sue Grafton has passed away. And she did not make it all the way to the letter Z. Yeah, I think she made it to the letter U? [She made it to “Y.”]
Sarah Harrison 21:09
Are there notes. Can someone finish it?
Carolyn Daughters 21:13
Each book was fairly standalone. You could pick up the series on the letter L or O, for example, and get great pleasure out of reading a standalone book. Or you could really get to know that protagonist and feel like she lives next door or like she’s a friend. Or I think what Gary Braver might say is that she’s the sort of protagonist you feel like you might be able to have a beer with. That kind of thing.
Sarah Harrison 21:46
Yeah, very relatable.
Carolyn Daughters 21:52
I could see this with Perry Mason and Della Street. They’re both crafted in such a way that I feel like I understand certain things about them. I’d follow their journey. I’d read another book. I’d keep reading the series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 22:05
So many of the books that we’ve started, I’m like, oh, I want to go down that path. I want to read the next, but we’re reading a different book the next month. Hopefully you feel that way, listeners, and maybe it has turned you on to some series that you want to dive into. I have a whole long list of things to explore now from just starting so many pivotal characters.
Carolyn Daughters 22:30
You and I are limited on time, not on interest or ambition. If we had all the time in the world, we’d be reading all the Perry Mason books in the series.
Sarah Harrison 22:41
Well, and the G.K. Chesterton. That was the other book. Yes, that one. I would love to read a lot more G.K. Chesterton, a lot more Father Brown, there’s quite a number of those. But that was the other character aside from those in The Maltese Falcon that really stood our, not in their similarity, but in how different the two moral codes were.
Carolyn Daughters 23:08
The Maltese Falcon has some similarities, but also The Innocence of Father Brown. The moral codes are very different. What was your takeaway there?
Sarah Harrison 23:23
Let me think back to Father Brown. And if you haven’t read it yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Carolyn Daughters 23:29
Stop everything. No, no, I’m sorry, finish the podcast episode, and then run out and get The Innocence of Father Brown. I still think about the stories in that book.
Sarah Harrison 23:39
I do, too. There’s not been another detective/priest like this guy, who is, in every case, more of a call to repentance. He never brings anyone to justice because I don’t think he believes in justice here on earth. He believes in justice after death and the ultimate justice. And so what he’ll do is, he tries to bring everyone to some level of repentance or change or introspection. He’ll never go get a policeman. It’s just not interesting to him. That’s for someone else to handle and think about. On the other hand, you have Perry Mason, who talks a lot about justice. And his concept of justice is from a very legal standpoint, which is justice is done when you have two sides arguing a case with everything they have. The district attorney is arguing the case for the people as hard as he possibly can. And so Perry Mason is going to argue his case for his client as hard as he possibly can. And you see him as he goes through. He never, ever, ever asks, “Did you do this?” He’s not even interested if you’re guilty or not guilty. He’s interested in if he gave your defense everything he had. And by doing so, justice will be done. He has fulfilled his duty to justice. But it’s the legal form of justice, which to me seems so far removed from what Father Brown is interested in, in terms of like spiritual justice. What was your take on that?
Carolyn Daughters 25:31
I agree with that. I think Perry Mason is kind of complicated to the point that I had trouble fully understanding his ethos, his moral code. He kept telling Della, he told Eva Belter, he told the reader. At one point, he’s debating with Della Street, and he says, “It’s my duty to support my client and to do everything I can to save them.” And she says, “Is it a duty to your profession?” He says, “No, it’s to myself. I’m a paid gladiator. I fight for my clients. My clients aren’t square shooters. That’s why they’re clients. They 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.” Della Street, cries out, “it isn’t fair!” And he says, “Of course not. It’s business.” Over and over again, he’s telling Eva Belter, “Yes, I’ll do this, but you got to pay me cash. Yes, it’s business. This is what I do.” But there also seems to be a deeper code in him. Let’s say a person in a perfect world could give themselves the optimal defense. If that person had the skills and wherewithal and language to defend themselves in court perfectly, they wouldn’t need Perry Mason. But he believes everybody should have either that skill or that individual beside them to articulate the argument for them. But also, he does seem to think this is a business transaction, right? I had trouble marrying the two. Maybe I need to read the entire series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 27:30
I think that’s right on. I think for him, it’s both. He’s going to be well paid for what he’s doing, and he believes in what he’s doing. Which is not a terrible situation. And it takes a super interesting turn in this particular case. For a while, I considered if I wanted to go into the legal field. When I was choosing grad school, I was choosing between science and the legal field. And so this idea that everyone deserves to have the best defense made on their behalf is an important one. I think it’s really the only way you can justify some behaviors. Most of the time, I think we think justice is when reality aligns with the verdict. If you know your client is guilty, and you’re defending him so hard, how are you not a scumbag? If you believe that everyone deserves the best argument on their behalf that they could make for themselves if they could do it.
Carolyn Daughters 28:43
Like it’s a moral shortcoming if you defend somebody who is a scumbag.
Sarah Harrison 28:48
The normal person feels like it is. But then the case takes this really interesting turn, where Eva actually believes she is guilty, and confesses. And it’s Perry’s continued defense of her that allows them to figure out that she wasn’t actually guilty. In a certain way, it proves the point in that Eva thought she herself was guilty when she wasn’t.
Carolyn Daughters 29:21
So would he have fought as hard, as adamantly, if she had been guilty.
Sarah Harrison 29:27
I think so. I think he doesn’t actually know at this point. But it proves his point that the right thing to do is to fight as hard as you can for your client. And in that way, it just so happened that he also uncovered the truth. But if he continued to uncover that she was guilty, he still would have done the same thing. I thought that was a really interesting kind of twist to the story is that she actually thought she was guilty and she confessed and went to jail. And then she wasn’t guilty. And Perry Mason got her off. I think he probably gets his clients off throughout the series of Perry Mason books.
Carolyn Daughters 30:00
The other thing that was a stunner for me was that she was out in the rain. At some point, she calls Perry and it’s quite early in the morning, I think. And he picks her up at this drugstore or something in the parking lot. And she says, “Oh, my husband was shot!” She comes up with this whole story. And he asks, “Do you know who shot him?” And she’s evasive and wide-eyed and innocent. And finally, she says, “Well, Perry, we both know, it was you.” I did not anticipate that and I thought, whoa, this woman is all in, she’s putting every poker chip she has into the center. I’m here. I’m in. That one blew me away.
Sarah Harrison 30:57
She thought if she could get Perry in, he’d have to pull himself out and bring her with him. But honestly, that seemed like a bad plan. It seems like it’d be more likely that he’d throw her to the dogs for that behavior. And that’s what everyone encouraged him to do. Della and Paul Drake, the detective Perry Mason worked with.
Carolyn Daughters 31:23
Paul Drake says to Perry Mason, fairly late in the book, “‘I wouldn’t give Eva Belter any consideration whatsoever. She’s just a two-timing little tart that saw a chance to marry money did it and husband giving everybody the double-cross ever since. You can talk all you want 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.'” And I thought to myself, I’m in Drake’s camp. I’m 100 with Drake. I have trouble getting Perry Mason. But I’m not bothered by that because that intrigues me more. I’m like, Okay, I would read more about this guy in the rest of the series of Perry Mason books., because he’s super interesting.
Sarah Harrison 32:23
You don’t not get him because he’s corrupt. You know, some of our Dashiell Hammett’s characters were like, do they have a moral code? Perry Mason definitely does. But it’s almost a little too cerebral. It feels like a legal loophole. I don’t disagree with it. I am familiar with it. What you don’t want to happen, in a legal sense, is for the best arguer to win. If somebody’s defending themselves and they’re just not good at stating their case, you don’t want someone to lose because of that. You want both sides to have the best argument they possibly can make. And then well, in this case, the courts decide. But I think we also all feel like that doesn’t necessarily align to the reality of truth and that the courts are not the best deciders all the time, regardless.
Carolyn Daughters 33:22
One of the reasons I really liked Perry Mason is part of this exposition about “who I am and what I’m all about,” which we get often in a first book in a series. He says, “I’m different. I get my business because I fight for it. I fight for my clients. People that come to me, don’t come to me because they like the looks in 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.” Essentially, he gets the job done. He’s not connected to people from college or a fancy club. Perry Mason is a lone wolf, possibly throughout the series of Perry Mason books. He just does his own thing. He’s a thinker and a fighter. We’re told that on page one, I think. People come to him because they need someone to fight for them.
Sarah Harrison 34:15
I definitely was taken aback. I was like, have attorneys ever been like this? Is this real? I don’t know any attorneys like this. Even if you feel like you’ve got an attorney who’s a good one, I don’t know that they’ll be out on the streets making phone calls and hiring detectives. They’re gonna be like, give me what you got. I’ll do the best I can with my lawyering.
Carolyn Daughters 34:42
Well, no. I think with higher profile cases, an Eva Belter-like case, I think an attorney would have a whole team of detectives doing work.
Sarah Harrison 34:51
I guess I’ve never been in such a high-profile case either. But I just don’t think of attorneys as kinda like these feet on the street, out running around.
Carolyn Daughters 35:00
Their goal is to break other people’s cases, to break other people’s alibis, to find out whatever the police haven’t. And so in a high-profile, big deal murder case, for example, I think there are a lot of detectives involved.
Sarah Harrison 35:19
Carolyn Daughters 35:20
I’m speculating here. Because as Sarah pointed out, she has not been involved in such case, and I have not either, and we’re gonna stick to that for the purposes of this podcast.
Sarah Harrison 35:35
For the time being and hopefully the future. Yeah, definitely, if I wanted an attorney, I would like them to be a Perry Mason.
Carolyn Daughters 35:42
For sure. And at one point, it looks like he is trying to save himself, rightly so because his client threw him under a massive bus.
Sarah Harrison 35:51
They called the police, brought them there, and said that Perry did it.
Carolyn Daughters 35:58
He basically turns the tables on his client, but he has a bigger plan. So he had to do that to clear her out of the way so he could actually get some work done.
Sarah Harrison 36:11
Right. He couldn’t work on her behalf from behind bars. So he had to stay free so he could work on her behalf. So she had to go to jail. Which works out, because she did confess, and she thought she was guilty.
Carolyn Daughters 36:28
He seems so interesting. The words I wrote were “heedless and headstrong.” At one point, Eva and George Belter’s butler takes Perry Mason’s arm to show him to the door, and Perry Mason slams the butler against a wall. Another time, a reporter from Spicy Bits approaches Perry at his car and starts asking him questions. Again, Perry Mason leads with his fists. I wonder if he does this throughout the series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 36:58
I took those two scenes differently, very differently, actually. When he threw the butler, that was after Eva walked in. He was on his way out and Eva walked in and made this like face, like she turned white, like, “Oh, no, holy cow. You’re here. My husband’s here.” It was an obvious face. So then Perry Mason threw the butler against the wall. I actually thought he was trying to distract Belter from looking at his wife.
Carolyn Daughters 37:25
Sarah Harrison 37:28
And the Spicy Bits guy was just a tough, that’s how I took it. He was actually going to actually hurt Perry Mason, and Perry saw through it and knocked him down.
Carolyn Daughters 37:38
I didn’t know either of those things.
Sarah Harrison 37:40
Oh, yeah, that’s where he was coming from with that. So I thought it was pretty calculated and clever.
Carolyn Daughters 37:46
I need to reread both of those scenes, but I didn’t get that in on my first reading for sure. Eva uses this one word over and over again, and every time she did I was like, this could be a drinking game. The word is “honestly.” Honestly, Perry. And she uses it quite a lot.
Sarah Harrison 37:48
I thought you were gonna say “loyal.” Because she kept bringing up loyalty.
Carolyn Daughters 38:05
That’s maybe another one. You can come up with three words, and it would be crazy by the end of the book. She did have one thread of truth in what she was saying. At one point she’s saying, “you know, Perry, if you’re not careful, there’s gonna be a lawsuit. You’re going to be accused of jury bribing, suborning perjury, and unprofessional conduct. You’re going to be hounded out of the city.” And then she also at one point says to him, “Do you understand what’s happening here? They’re gonna kill you. They’ve got affiliations in the underworld, gangsters, gunman.” I think she was spot on and that he was just heedless and headstrong. Well, you know, I’m just gonna keep doing what I do. I didn’t know what his plan was against so many powers that be because corruption seemed rampant in LA, where the book is set. We have corruption as a theme again. Anything can be bought in this city, it seems.
Sarah Harrison 39:26
I’m with you. I think Eva was right in that, but also I’m diverging. And then I think Perry did know what he was doing. It wasn’t his first case, and he has a history. He’s like, “I don’t like paying blackmail.” So he has a history of dealing with blackmail, and I think he was following this formula, which is find out who the guy is behind the guy. Go to the guy, and then talk to that guy. He can see who the toughs are, he knows when the toughs come out of Spicy Bits. He knocks him over and gets in the car.
Carolyn Daughters 40:03
Every time either of us says “spicy bits,” I giggle like I’m eight years old.
Sarah Harrison 40:07
I really wish we had a newsletter called Spicy Bits. I think we should start that. If you would subscribe, let us know. We’ll start spicy bits. He was so clever. And he did seem to keep things so well in hand, even when it seemed like everybody thought he didn’t know what he was doing. I’m inclined to think that he had enough experience to keep himself out of trouble and to deal with the thugs. I think this cleverness is a theme throughout the series of Perry Mason books.
Carolyn Daughters 40:42
I think that’s going to end up being spot on. I think in the series, we’re gonna see him come against these forces. There’s a tenuous situation, but he comes out of it. He’s fast on his feet. He’s got his wits about him. He understands the legal system inside and out. He’s got all the tools at his disposal to get the job done, which is why people come to him in the first place. I’m like, okay, cool. This is the first book in the series, I’m in. And then Della Street as well is so interesting. We get the two of them at the end, basically, really resolving all of the tension that’s been happening throughout the book. Initially, she was upset that he’s taking on the case. But once he took on the case, Della Street assumed, okay, you’ve got to help her at any cost. And she sees him turn Eva over to the police, and Della reads into that incorrectly and thinks he has violated his own code.
Sarah Harrison 42:03
Della thinks Perry Mason turned Eva over to the police actually. Well, and that was so interesting. I’m trying to think about Della in this sense. Even though he took the case, it’s not like she resigned herself. She hated this woman every minute of every day. Every time she walked in the office, every time they were in the same room. They were just like bristling at each other.
Carolyn Daughters 42:31
I think Della she was jealous of Eva.
Sarah Harrison 42:33
They both were something. There was a lot there. But it might be interesting to talk about that too. But Della never stopped telling him to drop her. She was like, “Don’t let her pull you into a murder charge!” And here she is in the middle of pulling him into a murder charge and almost getting him sent to jail. When he gets Eva put in jail instead with her confession, and Della is just like, “I can’t believe you did that!” Isn’t that what she had been telling him to do for the entire book, from the first page.
Carolyn Daughters 43:08
It’s almost like she knew everything she was saying was futile. So when he actually did the thing she had been suggesting all along, she was shocked.
Sarah Harrison 43:16
I don’t know if she just wanted to vent or say I told you so or what, but she didn’t actually want him to do what she was saying. And that was a difference too, right? So back to The Maltese Falcon, Effie was like, how could you do that to miss Wonderly? But I think Della had no illusions about Eva. She felt, I think, that Perry betrayed himself and his morals. I think his moral code is important in all the Perry Mason books.
Carolyn Daughters 43:45
I think that’s what happened.
Sarah Harrison 43:46
I don’t know who you are anymore.
Carolyn Daughters 43:49
I’m going to be the person who says “don’t do this, don’t do this.” And you’re going to be the person who says “I’m going to do it no matter what.” So when he did something that looked different, she was shocked. Now, Della is super interesting. We’re told that her family, I think, lost money during the 1929 stock market crash.
Sarah Harrison 44:13
I don’t remember the exact reason, but that sounds right. She came from money. And they lost all of it.
Carolyn Daughters 44:19
It’s 1933 or earlier. The book could be set earlier. But Della Street came from money, or some sort of high-society standing and now she’s working as Perry Mason secretary. That’s interesting. And then Eva Belter seems to look at Della as if she’s a lower class of person.
Sarah Harrison 44:47
She treats her like a servant.
Carolyn Daughters 44:49
And that whole “being treated like a servant” idea. I mean, Della Street is working, you know? When push came to shove, Della Street got a job. And Perry Mason says to her, “Well, you could have married a man and gone out with a different man. You could have been Eva Belter.”
Sarah Harrison 45:13
He was like, not everyone’s like you Della. And she’s just like, “what else could I do?” He says, “You could have done what Eva Belter did.”
Carolyn Daughters 45:21
You channel your beauty into high-profile marriage.
Sarah Harrison 45:27
You get a lot of money, you live a life of ease, and you find a boyfriend on the side.
Carolyn Daughters 45:33
All of that. Exactly. I am inclined to like Della because she’s scrappy. She made lemonade, essentially, right. Things didn’t work out. She didn’t cry about it. She didn’t go find the first rich man she could have. She’s quite attractive is the sense we get. But she said “I’ve got a brain in my head, I’m gonna go get a job.”
Sarah Harrison 46:02
She doesn’t compromise what she feels is her moral integrity to have an easier life.
Carolyn Daughters 46:09
Right. With Perry not being the guy you meet at the club and Della being the one who works for a living, I’m an argue readers are going to be inclined to like these two people and want to follow them on a journey throughout a series.
Sarah Harrison 46:28
Yeah, I agree. I would like to follow them on a journey.
Carolyn Daughters 46:31
Exactly. There’s a series based on the Perry Mason books on Hulu starring Matthew Rhys, who was in The Americans. He’s the lead actor in The Americans, and he plays Perry Mason.
Sarah Harrison 46:53
Oh, I’ll have to check it out.
Carolyn Daughters 46:56
It’s good. It’s very dark.
Sarah Harrison 46:59
I wanted to go check out the old ones, too, that I grew up on, the old black and white ones if I can find them. Because I remember Perry Mason in the courtroom and being very courty. And there was no courtroom in this book at all. It was it was much more of a gritty detective story with a lot of legal nuance thrown in there.
Carolyn Daughters 47:24
And what Perry Mason says in The Case of the Velvet Claws at one point is, “It’s my job to get this all wrapped up so we don’t have to go into the courtroom most of the time.” I don’t know if that shifts during the series. But I watched an old series version of The Case of the Velvet Claws.
Sarah Harrison 47:39
You did? Oh, you should send me that. We should post it on the website.
Carolyn Daughters 47:43
Yes. It was very interesting. And the actor, I think it’s Raymond Burr.
Sarah Harrison 47:49
Is it on Amazon? Where is it?
Carolyn Daughters 47:53
I’m platform confused. I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 47:58
TV is so different now.
Carolyn Daughters 48:00
I will find it and I will share it on social. But Perry Mason was very stern. Very expressionless. In several chapters in the book, Perry Mason is grinning. This was not a grinning Perry Mason in the TV show. This was a very all business, matter of fact, stern Perry Mason. I would have to read more of the Perry Mason books to know which Perry is the real Perry.
Sarah Harrison 48:27
Interesting. It’s always interesting to see how a media interpretation of a book turns out,
Carolyn Daughters 48:34
There are all these different versions of Perry Mason. In a movie series, I think, before this TV series, Perry and Della Street get married. Whereas, I think, in the books, they never get married. I believe in the book, she stays his secretary. Their relationship advances to a place where maybe he asks her to marry him, and she realizes it’s not appropriate for a wife to be her husband’s secretary, and she wants to keep making her way in the world and have her profession.
Sarah Harrison 49:11
Well, I guess I’ll have my feelings about that when I read it. I have a lot of feelings about it now. Like, what? I noticed she called him Mr. Mason the whole time. Or “chief.” Right up until he grabbed her and kissed her. That was at the very end, and I don’t know if she called him anything after that.
Carolyn Daughters 49:31
Good old 1933 formality. Just like when you come to the door, and then I always say, hello Miss Harrison.
Sarah Harrison 49:38
Yes, because we are very formal. Good afternoon.
Carolyn Daughters 49:41
As we’ve said we are very formal here at the Tea Tonic & Toxin podcast and book club.
Sarah Harrison 49:47
Yeah, I really liked Della’s character. I felt like I could identify with her feelings a lot. I’ve definitely felt that jealousy, not necessarily of just a beautiful but of someone that seems like they don’t have to work for what they’ve got. That feeling of always trying to scratch your way somewhere and always failing. I was really surprised at Della, though, and she was like, “What? I didn’t want you to do what I said!”
Carolyn Daughters 50:22
I wanted to sermonize. I didn’t want you to actually take action.
Sarah Harrison 50:29
That’s what got me though. Erle Stanley Gardner used the term “pleaded.” Perry pleaded with her. And I was like, Oh, this is different than The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is not going to plead with Effie about anything. But it shows his value of her esteem that he would plead with her.
Carolyn Daughters 50:51
Also, I wonder if this was intended to be a series from the get-go. I wonder if that sort of difference matters, because there is an entire series of Perry Mason books. We need to be in the camp of Perry Mason and Della Street and like them both. And maybe secretly wish that they get together, that this relationship pans out for them. Because they both seem to be good people. Perry Mason still confuses me. Actually Della Street also confuses me. Whereas The Maltese Falcon has more flexibility, arguably because it is a standalone book. And Dashiell Hammett can end it in the way that he does because it’s going to stand on its own.
Sarah Harrison 51:44
Yeah, that would be a tough ending to come back on the next day. You see Effie and Sam and their crazy lives.
Carolyn Daughters 51:56
And their triplets and their white picket fence.
Sarah Harrison 52:02
There was one thing here. I wanted to hear your comment about a little bit more. I know, we’re almost at time. We’re just coming on the heels of Malice Aforethought. So when we read Malice Aforethought, we had Teddy Bickleigh, who came from nothing but made good money. He married Julia, who had no money but high social standing. And I was like, okay, in England, you can have no money and very high social standing, and plenty of money and no social standing. There are different levels of aristocracy. Whereas in America, and The Case of the Velvet Claws is an American novel based in LA, it seems if you’re working class, you are working class. And if you have money, you are high class. I think it may be a theme throughout the series of Perry Mason books. And it just seems like, dare I say, simplified. I think you had a different take on that.
Carolyn Daughters 53:09
Eight years earlier, The Great Gatsby was published. And we get this whole East Egg, which is the old money, and West Egg, which is the new money. That’s the Nick Caraway and Jay Gatsby West Egg new money versus the Tom and Daisy Buchanan East Egg old money. I think, even in the United States, old money was seen as different than new money. I mean, maybe even today. I’m not an expert on what in the heck is happening today.
Sarah Harrison 53:12
The nuance of the high money society.
Carolyn Daughters 53:42
Or maybe it’s reversed because the new money is so revered.
Sarah Harrison 53:46
Then you’re a tech billionaire.
Carolyn Daughters 53:48
But back in 1925 to 1933, I think the Eva Belter is new money. When she walks into a room, I don’t think she’s going to be seen the same as somebody who might have generations of inherited wealth and had it bred into her. Eva Belter might have been arguably lacking the “breeding” of a Carl, the nephew, who is several times in the book, described as having good breeding.
Sarah Harrison 54:24
That’s true, he is. I don’t know, because we don’t have the new/old money contrast come into play except that the book does refer to Carl being able to pull himself together. And I actually I guess I had assumed they were all new money since George owns Spicy Bits. I figured that’s where he made his money, off blackmail. But I can be completely wrong.
Carolyn Daughters 54:50
But he had sort of a sham identity as if this is where my money comes from, which is not where it came from.
Sarah Harrison 54:56
He’s referred to as a gentleman.
Carolyn Daughters 55:02
I don’t know. The topic of class is touched on multiple times in this book. And I suspect that the topic is going to come back in many of the subsequent books in the series. Perry Mason himself doesn’t seem upper crust. I think it may be one of his distinguishing features in the series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 55:26
Right. He’s not at the club.
Carolyn Daughters 55:28
And Della Street who was has fallen in status and is working for herself. She might have a window into what that world is, but she’s not living in that world now. I don’t know. I think the old money/new money would probably be seen differently.
Sarah Harrison 55:53
I’m sure that would. I was just thinking about poor Della who lost all her money. And now she’s like nothing. She doesn’t even retain the status that like a Julia Bickleigh had in England. When Della and Eva were in the room, Eva managed to give off the impression of eating with the servants. Well, I guess that’s how it is in America.
Carolyn Daughters 56:19
There’s even this question at one point. They’re all at the Belters house. Perry Mason goes in to get tea for the police officers, and the maid, Mrs. Veitch, wasn’t sure she should make tea for them. Mr. Belter wouldn’t have made tea.
Sarah Harrison 56:38
They gave them the bad cups and saucers. The cups the servants used.
Carolyn Daughters 56:45
Mrs. Vetch’s niece, Norma, says, those are for the servants, shouldn’t we get the others? And Mrs. Vetch says, they’re lucky they’re getting this. Mr. Belter would have never even given them this. There’s this class system as to how good the china is that you serve somebody a cup of tea in. Very interesting. I’m gonna guess that part of my interest in the show that I was watching for the two seasons and part of the interest of readers in this particular series, almost certainly has to do with class. And with Perry Mason being a regular guy in the series of Perry Mason books.
Sarah Harrison 57:28
It was a great book. I really enjoyed The Case of the Velvet Claws. And I’m also really excited about next month’s book.
Carolyn Daughters 57:38
Oh, my gosh, it’s amazing.
Sarah Harrison 57:40
We have Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, if not read it or seen the movie about it. Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion (with a B) in 100 foreign languages. Once you read Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, you’ll understand why. Learn more about Murder on the Orient Express on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. You can share your thoughts on our website or on Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode.
Carolyn Daughters 58:31
I’m so excited about Murder on the Orient Express.
Sarah Harrison 58:34
Me, too. I’m always excited about our books. They’re always these wonderful page turners. Now I want to read all the Perry Mason books in the series.
Carolyn Daughters 58:39
I know, and we’re coming out soon with the 2024 picks. I’m just going to be waiting for the books to arrive in the mail or I’m going to be combing through the bookstores looking for my copies. I’ll have them within a month after we list them because I cannot wait to have these books. I’ve got to have them all in front of me.
Sarah Harrison 59:02
Get your mouse-clicking fingers ready. And until then, stay mysterious.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →