Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Review: The Case of the Recommended Reading

It won't come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I'm an avid fan of the classic Perry Mason series, which aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966. So how could I resist Jim Davidson's The Perry Mason Book: A Comprehensive Guide to America's Favorite Defender of Justice? Published as an eBook, this is a massively comprehensive, detailed, and fascinating guide not only to Erle Stanley Gardner's books, but the television shows, movies, radio programs, comic books, and other incarnations of his acclaimed lawyer-detective.

Davidson could easily have filled a sizable tome with his own observations, critiques, and reviews of Perry's escapades, and it would have been well worth reading. But he has gone far beyond that, drawing on original interviews with many of the people associated with Perry Mason behind the scenes. His history of the series (and its follow-ups) draws on information gathered from producers, writers, actors, and others who were directly involved in its creation, resulting in details that could have been gathered no other way. Though Perry's creator passed away many years ago, Davidson has also drawn on Gardner's papers held at the University of Texas, as well as records kept by Paisano Productions, which brought Mason to TV.

I am perhaps breaking one of the cardinal rules of the professional book reviewer when I say I am publishing this blog entry before I have finished reading Davidson's book. But that is actually a compliment to its author. Not only is it so comprehensive (without being bloated) that it requires a substantial investment of time to fully appreciate, but it is exactly the type of TV history book that cries out to be read slowly, ideally in conjunction with viewing the series episodes. I've been gradually watching Perry Mason on DVD for quite some time now, at the rate of about one episode per week, and I'm sadly reaching the point where I soon will have seen the entire series. In recent weeks, my viewing has been greatly enhanced by snatching up Davidson's guide shortly after turning off the TV, enjoying all the behind-the-scenes stories that accompany his episode guide. Once I've seen The Case of the Final Fadeout, I might well start over again at Season One, with Jim Davidson's book at my side.

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