cover image The Case of the Borrowed Brunette

The Case of the Borrowed Brunette

Erle Stanley Gardner. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-61316-248-4

A chance sighting of an oddity—eight look-alike brunettes, all wearing dark clothes and a fur around their necks, standing on consecutive corners of the same street—involves legendary L.A. defense attorney Perry Mason in one of Gardner’s cleverest puzzles. Mason approaches one of the women, Cora Felton, who says she’s there in response to a newspaper ad offering lucrative employment for a woman age 23 to 25 with certain physical measurements. The successful applicant would have “colorful, adventurous work” for up to six months with a choice of chaperone. In the end, Cora’s roommate, Eva Martell, is selected, and she learns she’s to stay inside an apartment and pretend she’s the real resident of the rooms, Helen Reedley. Eva’s chaperone, the roommates’ honorary aunt Adelle Winters, fears the bizarre directions mean that Helen has been killed. Mason intervenes to protect Eva and Adelle from any legal difficulties from going along with the assignment, which leads to a homicide. Gardner (1889–1970) keeps credible twists coming en route to a satisfying reveal. First published in 1946, this worthy addition to the American Mystery Classics series is a nice homage to the Conan Doyle Holmes story “The Red-Headed League.” (Sept.)