I’m currently reading Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mystery,The Case of the Daring Divorcee. It is enlightening to spend time in Gardner’s 1964 sensibilities and discoveries (including a strange “tape-recording answering machine”). Most intriguing, though, is the mind of our heroic defence attorney, Mr. Perry Mason, who wields a refreshingly logical brilliance.
I find that the authors of most modern brainy heroes don’t let us in on how their characters arrive at their profound conclusions; instead, we are to watch as they form their elusive epiphanies, but have to wait for a dramatic moment to be let in on the fun. Mason, though, is methodical and breaks down events right in front of us. Although don’t try to think ahead of him! He’s always one step ahead.
Consider Perry Mason vs Lieutenant Tragg regarding Mason’s client Adele Hastings. Perry anticipated that Tragg would bring Mrs. Hastings in front of a witness, who had seen a woman matching her description do something suspicious; so Perry had several women, of that same description, arrive in the meeting room just before Hastings was about to be identified.
The result, as Perry had planned, was that the witness picked out the first women to arrive—not Adelle Hastings—as the suspicious person. Lieutenant Tragg immediately intervened and told the witness to look at all the women: which one who was the women she had seen? Now the witness wasn’t sure: they all looked like her.
Don’t be impressed yet; watch what Mason does to Tragg next:
TRAGG (to the decoy women): You can go, all of you.
MASON: All of you can go. All of you.
TRAGG: Hey, wait a minute. I want Mrs. Hastings to say.
MASON: All right, which one is Mrs. Hastings?
TRAGG: Don’t pull those tricks on me.
MASON: Pick her out if you want her.
TRAGG: You’re talking to an officer, Perry. Don’t try those tricks.
Tragg then successfully identified Mrs. Hastings.
TRAGG: What the hell were you trying to do? Make a monkey of me? Did you think I couldn’t pick Mrs. Hastings out of that group?…
MASON: No, you didn’t have any trouble picking her out. That’s all I needed to convince any jury that the test was a fair one.
Brilliant! Like a magician, Perry had misdirected Tragg and I to assume that he was trying to further demonstrate the fallibility of witnesses by showing Tragg that even he couldn’t pick his client out of a lineup. Well, Tragg and I could prove that wrong: we could easily identify Hastings! And, just like that, Perry pulled the rabbit out of our testimony as he proved that, if his client really was the one who had been witnessed, she would have been identifiable even amongst a crowd of lookalikes.
Next time I’m on trial for a crime I didn’t commit, I’m calling Perry Mason!