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Mondays with Mason: Chapter One

The Perry Mason Recap: Season One, Episode One

Anyone who has spent some time in lending libraries around Chennai would know that Perry Mason was not just a book that you borrowed, but a whole shelf of paperbacks to get through. 

This is how them shelves be labelled and helped boys (at the time) such as me optimize our time within their premises: 

Romance (skip)

Periodicals (10 mins, mostly Cosmo) 

Comics (10 mins, mostly Phantom) 

And bulk of the time…

Agatha Christie

Perry Mason

So you see reader, Perry Mason was not just a set of books, it was a genre, a name that even blocked its author Erle Stanley Gardner out of memory. Maybe it was easy to label it as just Perry Mason. 

Speaking of names, the books had very intriguing titles, almost always a case attached to it; like the case of the velvet claws or the case of the black-eyed blonde (incidentally the black-eyed blonde part was borrowed for a recent Marlowe novel title, there’s our fun fact) and when the first episode  of the HBO TV series dropped, I was quite disappointed when it read ‘chapter one’. 

But the makers make up for the lack of imagination in titles with the richness of the settings. 

It’s 1930s Los Angeles.

The great depression, the cynics utopia, the golden age of pulp that relished the washed-out wit of detectives, the time when Chandler, Hammett (the Maltese Falcon was exactly 1930, there’s another fun fact), Gardner and a whole lot of others wrote their weight in gold. I could go on, because I love this as my literature and it’s there in this updated series from image one. 

It’s one thing recreating the city visually, it’s another recreating what I thought it was from the books. It begins with a ransom call and a baby kidnapping gone wrong, the unspeakable happens in which even a bit of thread could be so diabolical. 

That’s the case, it’s graphic and I understand why they don’t want to put in the title. 

When we meet our hero, it’s raining and he walks through his name credit, styled to resemble the Warner films of yore into a diner. Perry Mason, detective, not lawyer, detective and currently he is on a tail job. Classic. 

If you are a Depression era detective you must have the some of the following 

🔫 a pistol, because you never know what you get on the job

🤣an unhealthy sense of humor, because life’s bad anyway

👮a healthy hatred of uniformed policemen, ex-job maybe

🔬 an eye for detail, every clue counts

🐌a relentlessness search for an end and maybe the truth

👤a perennial love for social distancing

But more importantly, every detective of the time had their own take on life, a running social commentary that walked along with them that when these writers brought it out with the necessary turn of phrase, it became how readers made sense of the world, their own philosophy. 

If Marlowe was the Arthurian Knight, Mason was the one who stood between the underdog and society’s ills and monsters. 

Not in this episode, no, he is a typical detective, his philosophy will hopefully evolve over the course of the show, because there is space in ten episodes to do a lot of character development. 

Here he is quite clueless, when his partner asks him about life and fun and the next few scenes, we uncover layer after layer, his Great War experience, his marriage or lack of it, his diary farm that precariously sits next to a flying club and his general shabby life. Perry seems pretty empty at this point, clearly he has seen a lot and his motivation, although not his only, seems to be to get over with cases and get paid for it. There’s shockingly a streak of unscrupulousness too which comes out when he goes blackmailing, but I couldn’t read greed in him. Again, not typical Mason. 

But what’s typical in these types of stories is that our hero gets hit by thugs and I forgot to add resistance to thugs in my essential detective checklist. 

After much character development, we now have the kidnapped baby case brought to him by the ever terrific John Litgow who plays a senior lawyer (E.B) and our detective. 

That’s all really what I pine for, in a revival like this. 

The case is definitely high profile for Perry, he has to face off with insulting policemen at the crime scene, a shadowy client with deep pockets and deeper faith, a fidgety father who looks good for the killer on paper and a grieving mother who reminds him of his own son, far far away, separated. Oh yeah, there’s Della Street too

As we call to turn the page to chapter 2, our hero literally just has a strand from the case and there are lots of ways in which it could go from here. But is it not the job of the detective to go down the mean streets to get to the truth? 

Stayed tuned, till the next episode of Mondays with Mason. 

Oh yeah, this is a HBO show and it goes without saying.So there’s already at least two scenes that you cannot watch with family, but there’s a certain fun in solo watching of a show which features a lonely detective. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar in India.

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