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The Case of the Empty Tin

The Case of the Empty Tin - Erle Stanley Gardner

We all have an aunt like this (if not aunt, then some other close relative; you do not have to go as far as second cousins to find such person). The kind who loves make homemade preserves: pickles, jams, and such. The preserves are carefully stored on shelves in a basement, labeled and ordered.

Preserves

Florence Gentrie was such person. Imagine her righteous indignation when she found an unlabeled closed empty tin can on her shelf. To a casual observer it would seem like much ado about nothing, but it looked like this can was somehow connected to a crime committed in a nearby house.

 

The crime was a strange one. People heard exactly one shot in the middle of the night and the car of the apartment tenant from where the shot came from was all in bloodstains in the morning. Both owner and his housekeeper disappeared. This meant it was not even clear who was the victim and who was the (possible) murderer. Where does Perry Mason come in? He was hired by a reclusive handicapped guy living above the apartment where the crime was committed. Mason’s task was to keep his client in the background as much as possible – from the police interrogations and the resulting publicity mostly. Obviously the best way to do it would be to solve the crime before the police starts meddling.

Police investigation

 

Perry Mason is very good at investigating, even if it means lying to the police hiding behind client-lawyer confidentiality, breaking into somebody’s home, finding a dead body or two, and generally put his life in danger. Do not feel bad for the guy as his fees clearly show all the excitement he had to go through.

 

The mystery was complicated enough to make me keep guessing about not only the identity of the villain, but also about what exactly was going on. I admit that the vital clues were given early, but it was practically impossible to recognize them as such behind all the red herrings thrown in. I also learned a simple but effective method of encrypting your messages which would put all the modern computer cryptography to shame.

Cryptography

 

I had one fairly big problem with the book using one of the worst trope of a mystery story. Not to spoil anything I will use a completely different situation from another book with the same trope. A guy was murdered. The investigation uncovered two facts from his history – among others. Some time ago the victim was driving a car being completely intoxicated, lost the control and ran over a wife and a kid of a guy named X, used a good lawyer and avoided the jail. Some other time the victim looked at another guy called Y the wrong way. Now for the trope itself: the investigators completely forget about the existence of X and build their investigation around Y trying to find (non-existing) evidence against him. I consider this to be an insult to readers’ intelligence.

 

This book had one such trope. Fortunately it was not about the main clue, otherwise I would have lowered the rating a lot, my love for the series notwithstanding. This was one additional very obvious lead which Mason overlooked. I came to expect better from one of the most famous lawyers in literature.