Thursday, September 29, 2016

Power of the Press

Read/Watch 'em In Order #71

"Close Call," (Black Mask, January 1933) the third of the Ken Corning stories, starts off with a bang and doesn't stop sprinting until the final sentence. Corning is still butting heads against the corrupt city administration and this tale opens with a dirty cop trying to badger Corning into giving away information about the lawyer's latest client.

The client is accused of murdering a newspaperman who was working for reform. The accused man is also a reformer, but the cops have come up with a vague motive for the murder and have a supposed witness to the murder stashed away.

Corning is not a man to be badgered or intimidated. He gives the cop a verbal beat-down and immediately starts looking for a witness of his own who can demonstrate his client's innocence. He accomplishes this without too much trouble, but the cops are right behind him and quickly start their intimidation tactics again.

Corning also finds out where the prosecution witness is hidden and tries to speak with him.

He's tossed out before he can do so, but he gets a look at the witness AND has arranged for a press photographer to get a picture of him (Corning) being forcibly ejected from the hotel room. The resultant publicity gives him a slight advantage.

But then Corning's witness is bribed to leave town. Putting everything he learns together, Corning realizes the prosecution's fake witness is actually the real killer. He might not be able to prove this, but he can once again use the power of the press to force the D.A. to drop the charges against his client. It means pulling a stunt that requires Helen Vail, his loyal secretary, to arrange a fender bender with a cop car AND it comes uncomfortably close to suborning perjury. But if it works, an innocent man will walk out of prison.

The dynamic between Corning and Vail grows even closer to the one Erle Stanley Gardner was building in his Perry Mason stories, but it's a dynamic that Gardner handles well, so there is no objection to it. The story is perhaps the fastest moving and most purely entertaining of the first three Ken Corning stories.

The first three stories were published in consecutive issues of Black Mask. There would be a five-month gap before the final three stories appeared, but Ken Corning will be back. There's still a lot of corruption in New York City that needs cleaning up.

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