Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Case of the Shoplifter's Book

I am absolutely ecstatic! I have learned something I asked the Yahoo Group in vain some time back, whether or not the Deputy D.A. Sampson character exists in the books. Apparently he does! A deputy D.A. named Sampson figures into at least one book, The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe. I’ve asked the person who reviewed the book what the character is like, but I haven’t received a reply yet.

Just judging by what I subsequently read at Storrer’s site, I can’t quite figure out what he’s like. I don’t like that at one point he’s coaching a witness on what to say. But I’d have to actually read the book to see what’s fully going on; I would imagine that Sampson fully believes that what he’s saying is the truth and hence, doesn’t think it amiss to coach the witness into saying it. Yet still, it sounds more like the impetuous Bill Vincent than Sampson.

The television Sampson is sharp, smart, and seems upright almost to a fault. He does try to drag answers to leading questions out of some uncooperative witnesses, but just by treating them as hostile and demanding they simply answer Yes or No, which certainly isn’t the same as coaching them on what to say. And when accused of offering immunity to someone wanted for manslaughter in Tennessee, he responds, “We resent that, Your Honor!”

I suppose, depending on the context, I might not find it out-of-character for him to coach the witness. But I don’t think it’s right for either side to do that with a witness, and knowing Sampson, he would likely agree and not knowingly be a party to it.

Of course, however, the book versions of the characters really are different in many ways from their television counterparts, and not always flatteringly so. I imagine it could be argued that the book characters have more faults and hence are more human, but I say there are many ways to have faults and the way the books do it isn’t the only way, nor necessarily the best way.

One definite, but superficial, difference between the Sampsons is that his first name in the book is given as Larry. I still like my choice of the name Gregory; Larry just doesn’t sound as fitting for a character as strong and determined and brash as H.M. Wynant portrayed him. And the television series already has a deputy D.A. Larry anyway, in the form of Larry Germaine. So I’ll probably keep using the name Gregory. It wouldn’t be the first time the books and the television series have diverged on a name.

What’s really weird is when the books and the television series agree on a name . . . even if the titles and plots are completely different! On Friday night MeTV showed The Shattered Dream, a television series-only episode. And after reading the aforementioned very interesting review of the book version of The Shoplifter’s Shoe, I have come to the realization that The Shattered Dream used several names from The Shoplifter’s Shoe! This can hardly be a coincidence. And since the stories are completely different, it’s a very weird deliberate act.

First off, the most glaring parallel is that both stories feature a prominent character called Virginia Trent. In Dream, she’s the heiress to a diamond business. In Shoe, she’s the niece of the defendant and is always spouting psychology to explain people’s actions.

I suppose that if that was the only parallel, one could possibly assume that it’s a coincidence, even though Virginia isn’t a very common name. But it doesn’t stop there.

In Shoe, Virginia’s aunt is named Sarah Breel. In Dream, the murder victim is using the alias Breel when he leaves his wife. And his wife’s name is Sara.

And it gets weirder still. Dream features a character called Irene Bedford, who owns the diamond that’s absolutely central to the whole plot. Shoe features Ione Bedford, who pretends to own nice things like the Bedford Diamonds, which are also fairly critical to the story.

What in the world? How did all of that happen? It almost makes me wonder if Dream was originally intended to be a very loose adaption of Shoe, but somewhere along the line someone decided it should be its own story. Later on, when they finally got around to adapting Shoe in season 6, they kept all the names. In fact, so far it seems to be one of the only times I’ve seen where the book and the television names remain the same.

As mentioned, I looked through Storrer’s site to see the details of the book version of Shoe. I was impressed to see that aside from some fleshing out of things, the basic plot was almost completely retained for the television episode . . . until we came to the solution of the crime.

In the television Shoe, of course, we find out that while Virginia thinks her gunshot killed Austin Cullins, it actually went wild and Leonard Nimoy’s character Pete Chennery was the actual murderer. But if I understand the book version’s plot, it looks like in it, Virginia really did kill Cullins! She did it out of reflex when he shot at Sarah, so it certainly couldn’t ever be construed as cold-blooded murder. But Perry fixes things with legal trickery so that Sarah Breel is exonerated and Virginia is unlikely to be prosecuted. And, he says, the police are likely to think Chennery did the killing.

Um . . . does that mean that Perry basically just set up someone else who’s guiltless to take the blame? Or else he did nothing and just plans to continue to do nothing and stand idly by if the police find Chennery (as Perry admittedly thinks they won’t)? I know book-Perry does a lot more shady things than television Perry, even at his worst, but this? I suppose I’d actually have to read the book to know for sure what’s going on to that effect, but it definitely doesn’t sound good from here.

In any case, book-Perry really is quite a piece of work. I’m thinking more and more that he and book-Della would probably make great friends with either version of Simon Templar.

It really puzzles me as to why, when Erle Stanley Gardner wanted to write something to show lawyers in a better light, he instead wrote Perry as acting a lot like a shyster and doing downright illegal things in at least the earlier novels. How would that help public opinion? I guess it must have, or the books wouldn’t have taken off so much, but I’m just sitting here thinking What in the world? and being glad that the television Perry had his act cleaned up quite a bit. I may be in the minority, but I really prefer when the protagonist doesn’t have such questionable morality, especially if he’s in a position like Perry.

I suppose it could be argued that the difference between a regular shyster and Perry is that Perry really cares about his clients and he isn’t just out for money. But I don’t like how book-Perry doesn’t care whether his client is guilty or not, since one of the defining traits of television Perry is that he cares very much. Nor do I like that book-Perry really doesn’t care if the murderer goes scot-free as long as he gets his client off (regardless of whether the client is the killer). I know book-Perry is probably closer to real lawyers, since I don’t imagine most real lawyers go around solving crimes and digging up the killers except in unusual cases. But I guess even though Hamilton is my favorite, I still kind of romanticize Perry a bit! That’s definitely the television show’s influence, and I don’t mind at all.

Interestingly, I guess the fact that book-Perry defends guilty clients sometimes and doesn’t seem to care about exposing the real murderers in any case might mean the reduction or elimination of the police apparently not doing their jobs well, which is certainly how it looks in the television series when the wrong person is arrested near constantly and Perry is solving the cases and discovering the real criminals. Alternately, however, book-Perry’s attitudes don’t always make him seem like such a great hero. Sometimes I like antihero characters, but I’m just not crazy about Perry being one. And Sergeant Holcomb, in the books, seems a lot more idiotic than any of the television police ever did.

I guess, just as with those who prefer early episodes over later ones, and vice versa, it really comes down to what’s wanted out of entertainment. And since I prefer characterization over twisty plots, and feel that the television characters deliver the type of characterization I find most pleasing, I will always prefer the television series to the books, even if I can come to enjoy the books as sort of an alternate universe.

That said, I would still like to see a fanfiction story where book-Perry and television-Perry somehow meet and compare differences in personalities and attitudes and such. It would be so much fun! And looking at it in a meta light, it could be very helpful for me and others to really see the similarities and differences between the versions of the character.

If anyone reading this has read the book version of The Shoplifter’s Shoe, I would really like to know more about how Sampson is portrayed! I’m going to be trying to track down a copy of the book, but since I really prefer shiny new books to second-hand books, and it’s unlikely I can find a shiny new one, I’m not sure when I’ll find a copy I want to buy. It’s also on Kindle, for those who like intangible books. (I don’t.)


  1. I actually like it better too when he isn't being as questionable. Maybe it was partially a product of when the books were written?

    My Amazon order came in today :). Checked all of the discs and they're good. So onto some Perry Mason movie watching.

    1. That's possible, I suppose. I believe more morally questionable protagonists were pretty common around then.