Thursday, October 20, 2016

Every Good Lawyer has Skeleton Keys and a Solid Right Hook

Read/Watch 'em In Order #72

Poor Ken Corning. The lawyer can't spend more that a few minutes working quietly behind his desk before someone tries to frame him.

Actually, in "Making the Breaks," (Black Mask, June 1933), it's his secretary Helen Vail who gets framed. Or rather, she's framed so that Corning can in turn be framed so that Corning's client can in his turn be framed.

The client is accused of killing a man during an armed robbery. Both the dead man's friend (present during the robbery) and two other witnesses make positive identifications. But someone is willing to hedge their bets even further when two hundred-dollar bills--part of the loot taken from the victim--turn up in Helen's purse after someone tries to snatch it.

Corning is convinced his client is being framed, which means one or more of the witnesses are lying and are probably plants arranged by the notoriously corrupt NYPD. He sets Helen Vail out to make friends with the girlfriends of the witnesses and eventually does a little breaking-and-entering, steals a diary, sets a fake fire and essentially kidnaps someone. But that's how you get things done in the Hard-Boiled Universe, by golly. Corning identifies the real killer and clears his client without ever setting foot in a courtroom--AND all because he carries a set of skeleton keys and can knock a man out with one punch. Who needs law school?

That faking a fire bit, by the way, is emulating a similar trick once used by Sherlock Holmes. Everybody learns from Holmes.

This is the fourth of the six Ken Corning stories and, if anything, they are getting better as the series progressed. The pace grows faster and the stories more exciting, while the plots remain strong and logically constructed. Erle Stanley Gardner was an excellent storyteller and (as I've said before) it's a shame that Perry Mason has overshadowed so many of his other characters. Mason deserves his fame, but the other guys are pretty cool as well.

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