So I’ve had a certain curiosity over The Saint books, since they’re all being reprinted, and I decided that it would be a good time to take a closer look at some of the Perry books. I don’t like reading books online, but last year I found what seems to be a Russian site with several out-of-print Perry books available to read (in English): http://www.e-reading.ws/bookbyauthor.php?author=21005 I posted the link then, but didn’t actually look at much of anything (save for a bit of The Singing Skirt).
Last week I decided to try The Caretaker’s Cat. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read enough to get quite an interesting picture of it! I then skimmed through the rest, the information about it on Storrer’s site, and watched the episode on my DVD set.
The episode is one of my favorites, so the book was quite a shock by comparison. It reminds me of when I talked about how some of the old Nancy Drew books were changed so completely in revisions that they became entirely different stories. I kept that in mind while going through The Caretaker’s Cat book and was able to enjoy it on its own merits.
As to trying to describe how the two differ, though, oh wow, where to begin? One pretty much has to throw out the entire storyline of the episode; the book is another story altogether. Even the characters’ names are different; the only one whose name remains the same is the nurse.
One weird change is that the main family name is Laxter. It’s Baxter in the episode. Why such a minor change? Did they think someone would make silly, crude cracks about the name Laxter sounding like laxative? Heh, that’s something that might happen today, but I’d be surprised if anyone was concerned about that in 1958, since such remarks just did not happen on television back then.
The book opens with the grouchy old caretaker (certainly nothing like the nice Asian-American man in the episode, but an amusing and colorful fellow) coming to Perry because following his boss’s death, one of the heirs is trying to force the caretaker to get rid of his cat or the poor thing will be poisoned (ugh!). Perry decides to take the case and there are several quips about him defending a cat. Coming to think of it, that reminds me just a bit of The Golden Oranges and the dog Hardtack.
I don’t recall anything about a plan to test the heirs by faking a death, something that was so key to the episode. And while of course that whole plan was bizarre, it made for quite a unique and fun episode. In the book, however, there was a different intended test, to show Winifred how the men in her life would behave if she were disinherited. And the faking of the death element came about because Peter Laxter realized there was going to be an attempt on his life, so he planned to bring in an already-dead body to burn in the house.
There are two more deaths in the book. The poor caretaker ends up being killed. Later, Edith DeVoe the nurse is killed. I was skimming the rest of the book by that point, but I believe Winifred’s fiancé was the defendant. Interesting indeed, since he didn’t have a very big part in the episode.
The caretaker was killed by one of the heirs and Edith DeVoe having a plot, similar to the episode. But then Edith was killed by the supposedly dead boss Peter Laxter in self-defense, when he tried to investigate his caretaker’s death and realized she was involved. Peter finally confesses to that and comes out of hiding; Perry says he’ll defend the man if prosecution happens.
The best thing about the book is that the cat is absolutely vital to the case and the solving of the murders, whereas in the episode he is barely present and the only real connection he has with the case is the fact that he was removed from the house before the fire. I’ve often complained about the cat’s lack of screentime in the episode. In the book, the cat is walking around the courtroom, meows at Perry and others, and jumps in Winifred’s lap! Aww. The cat’s breed is also different; Erle Stanley Gardner seemed to be partial to Persians and both this cat and The Careless Kitten, book version, are Persians.
I love how Mr. Gardner writes the cat’s actions. He seems to have a fondness for cats in general and enjoys writing about this one. Clinker, as he is called here instead of Monsoon, is sweet and friendly and purring. Although it’s said that there aren’t many people he likes, he seems to like the main people he interacts with in the book, including Della.
I imagine Perry/Della fans are absolutely enamored of this volume, since for some reason they’re pretending to be newlyweds on a honeymoon! It seems to be at least partially in order to question a priest, but I’m not sure why they persist in the ruse after that.
One thing that’s both amusing and exasperating is that many times, the author will use the full name of the character (Perry Mason, Della Street, etc.) in a sentence when it really isn’t necessary. It doesn’t happen every time, as I was once told, but it does happen fairly often. I was also told that the reason might have been because Mr. Gardner was paid for each word, so he tried to get as much money out of each book as he could. Ha!
One thing that I did not like one bit is that there was quite a bit of swearing just in the few chapters I read all the way through. Nothing really harsh, but even more mild words irritate me when overused.
When he doesn’t swear, I am highly amused by Perry Mason actually saying “Gosh.” That is not a euphemism I can easily picture television Perry saying!
I am confused and happily surprised over Hamilton being present in the book. I thought I was told that he didn’t appear until around book 12, but this one is book 6 or so and he was also in the one before it!
I actually liked him in the scene I was reading, to my surprise. He tells Perry that he’s a good lawyer, but then adds that Perry is a better detective than a lawyer. And he doesn’t want to do anything that would make it look like Perry is making a cat’s paw out of him. But he listens to what Perry wants and decides to exhume the body burned in the house. He seems fairly amiable and mentions that he has a horror of prosecuting an innocent person. He doesn’t sound at all like the sort who would “pass up three murder convictions” to get Perry arrested on a charge of littering! Hopefully book-Tragg was just exaggerating when he said that strange thing.
Overall my experience with the book was pleasant and it definitely makes me more eager to read more of it as well as other books in the series. I doubt I’ll ever prefer them to the television series, but I do love having more than one medium to enjoy a franchise on, so if I can enjoy the books alongside the television series, all the better.