K.B. Owen’s DANGEROUS AND UNSEEMLY Mystery Book Tour: Perry Mason

Today I welcome guest blogger K.B. Owen, whose historical mystery novel DANGEROUS AND UNSEEMLY is launching this week.  Kathy has long been one of my very favorite bloggers and now she’s one of my favorite authors. ~ Janice Hamrick

How about a little mystery fun…and a prize! Each stop in K.B. Owen’s book launch tour has a mystery question to answer. When you have them all, unscramble the answers to which ROOM, WEAPON, and SUSPECT, and email Kathy at kbowenwriter(at)gmail(dot)com. She’ll announce the winner (chosen from the correct entries) at Karen McFarland’s blog (http://www.karenmcfarland.com), the last stop of the tour. What do you win? A free ebook copy of Dangerous and Unseemly, and a $25 gift card of your choice to either Starbucks, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble! If you run into a few stumpers – no problem! Check out her Mystery Quizzes page http://kbowenmysteries.com/mystery-quizzes/ for links to the answers. If you’ve joined us in the middle of the tour, the complete list of Book Tour hosts can be found at kbowenmysteries.com or click here for more information. Good luck!
Email Deadline: Monday, April 1st
What famous fiction private eye said: “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter”?
I) Sam Spade
J) Phillip Marlowe
K) Mickey Spillane
L) Raymond Chandler

Fabulous Formula: K.B. Owen Discusses the Success of Perry Mason

Hi, everyone!  I’m thrilled to be a guest on Janice’s site today, talking about one of my favorite classic mystery characters, Perry Mason, and his creator, Erle Stanley Gardner.

 The Perry Mason series:

The books are part of the hard-boiled, pulp fiction tradition, with sexy dames, hard-nosed cops, and a protagonist who has his own set of ethics and his own way of dispensing justice.  Some critics contend that the series became more “soft-boiled” over time, but I haven’t done a close enough reading of all of the novels to have an opinion on that.  It certainly wasn’t high-brow literature; just a fun read that didn’t pretend to be anything else.  Below are some of the covers, and they’re certainly drawn in the pulp tradition.

mason composite

The books are readable and comfortingly formulaic:  the first half of the story is concerned with introducing the client, the problem, and the investigation, where the police and prosecution seem to have the upper hand and all seems lost; the second half of the story is the courtroom scene, where Mason uses all the lawyer tricks he can get away with to shuffle around the evidence and confuse the witnesses, until finally the true culprit confesses and his client is cleared.

The prolific Erle Stanley Gardner:

Gardner was a California lawyer for 20 years, which came in handy for those slick points of law that Mason uses to get out of tight spots.  He did some pulp-fiction writing during those years, but really hit his stride when he turned to writing the Perry Mason series full-time.

Over the course of 40 years (between 1933 and 1973), Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason “cases,”  not including several short stories that featured the lawyer/detective.

I find that astonishing.

How does an author produce so many stories, without repetition of storyline and elements?

One answer, of course, is that Gardner followed a formula for each book.  As I mentioned above, the first half of the story is investigation, the second half courtroom.  There’s another formula, too, in terms of who has power.  In the first half, Mason has the deck stacked against him and it doesn’t seem possible to extricate himself and his client.  In fact, all seems lost.  Yet, by the end of the second half there’s a twist and – voila! Mason’s on top once again.  As much as folks disparage the use of formula, it helps build the brand for a series like Perry Mason.

But another surprising reason for the prolific storylines is Garder’s use of plot wheels. Take a look at these cool little tools that Gardner used in writing his novels.  (Source for the following images:  Teaching the American 20s).

Below are the wheels.  In case the writing is too small, here’s the title of each, clockwise from upper left: “Solution,” “Wheel of Complicating Circumstances,” “Wheel of hostile minor characters who function in making complications for hero,” and “Wheel of blind trails by which the hero is mislead (sic) or confused.”  Nifty, huh?


Plot Wheels

For more on Gardner’s use of plot wheels, and other writing strategies he employed, take a look at the following:


Secrets of the World’s Best-Selling Writer: the Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis and Roberta Fugate, 1980 (before J.K. Rowling, obviously).

Perry Mason’s appeal:

  • Della Street:  the quintessential gal Friday, and an unacknowledged love interest for Perry.  Super-efficient.  I wish she could run my kids’ homework nights. happy face
  • Paul Drake, of Drake Investigations:  the man could find out anything, and was almost as fast as Google.
  • The clients:  usually female, uncooperative bombshells, and their own worst enemy.  Mason was essentially saving them from themselves.
  • Perry Mason:  his cleverness and ingenuity won out every time.  He was also not above walking on the shady side of the law from time to time: a little B&E, some suppressing of evidence, etc.  Who doesn’t enjoy a rogue who’s also a good guy?

Beyond the books:  radio and television

Radio: CBS ran the radio episodes in 15-minute increments, five times a week, from 1943 to 1955.  It was sponsored by Tide laundry detergent, “the amazing washday miracle” (info courtesy of Jack French).  In other words, it was a soap opera!

Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. Image via tvtropes.org

 Television: This was the Perry Mason we are most familiar with.  The series, starring Raymond Burr, ran from 1957 to 1966, was a re-run staple for CBS, and later re-run on other stations.

Here’s a clip of the opening credits and music theme. Bring back memories?

Did you ever watch Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, or read the original novels?  Who is your favorite detective?  Janice and I would love to know!

Janice, thanks so much for hosting me!  I had a blast.


About the authorK profile2012

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A mystery lover since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells. Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. No doubt many people are thankful about that.

She now resides in Virginia with her husband and three sons.  She recently finished the second book in the series, and is busily planning Concordia’s next adventure.  Check out her website for more historical mystery fun: kbowenmysteries.com


An unseemly lesson…in murder.D&U cover2

The year is 1896, and Professor Concordia Wells has her hands full:  teaching classes, acting as live-in chaperone to a cottage of lively female students, and directing the student play, Macbeth.

But mystery and murder are not confined to the stage.  Malicious pranks, arson, money troubles, and the apparent suicide of a college official create turmoil at the women’s college.  For Concordia, it becomes personal when a family member dies of a mysterious illness, and her best friend is attacked and left for dead.

With her friend still in danger and her beloved school facing certain ruin, Concordia knows that she must act.  But uncovering secrets is a dangerous business, and there are some who do not appreciate the unseemly inquiries and bold actions of the young lady professor.  Can she discover the ones responsible…before she becomes the next target?

Absorbing in its memorable characters, non-stop plot twists, and depiction of life in a late-nineteenth century women’s college, Dangerous and Unseemly is a suspenseful and engaging contribution to the cozy historical mystery genre.  Fans of Harriet Vane and Maisie Dobbs will find in Concordia Wells a new heroine to fall in love with.

Dangerous and Unseemly is now available from the following sellers:

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13 Responses to K.B. Owen’s DANGEROUS AND UNSEEMLY Mystery Book Tour: Perry Mason

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Janice, thank you so much for hosting me! I really enjoyed writing about the Perry Mason series, and I hope your readers do, too!


  2. Pingback: Perry Mason: my guest post on Janice Hamrick’s blog!

  3. Janice – Thanks for hosting Kathy.

    Kathy – Thanks for discussing one of the most enduring fictional detectives there are. Mason’s character combines courtroom skill, a deep commitment to his clients and a willingness to do what it takes to solve cases. What’s not to like about that?

  4. Kirsten says:

    I’d heard of plot wheels (generally disparagingly) but why not? I’m a big fan of the plotting structure from the book Story Engineering (by Larry Brooks) and the idea isn’t so different.

    Off to cut out some circles!

    • K.B. Owen says:

      LOL, Kirsten! I think whatever tool a writer can use to best effect is a good tool. Here’s hoping we have the problem of coming up with 80 plot lines! :D

  5. Kassandra Lamb says:

    Perry Mason was one of my childhood heroes. (Yes, I am old enough to remember when he was prime time, Yikes!) During a recent bout of bronchitis, I watched a bunch of re-runs. Even though the plots were so predictable (up to a point) and the dialogue often rather stilted, I still found myself getting sucked in.

    Thanks for a great post, Kathy, and thanks for hosting her, Janice!

    • K.B. Owen says:

      You know, I think that trying to keep the reader guessing will only take you so far. Remember that proverb, “There is nothing new under the sun”? It’s our voice and characterizations that make the plot lines fresh. My humble opinion. ;)

  6. Julie Glover says:

    I remember watching Perry Mason shows, especially when I was in high school and college. They were replayed on some of the cable networks back then, and I loved them.

    Perhaps it’s called a formula, but that sounds like story structure to me. That is, I’ve read that the main character is supposed to go from reactive in the first half to proactive in the second half (generally speaking, and I think this is Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, but don’t quote me). Whatever formula or wheel Gardner used, the story worked! Perry Mason is still a classic. (Although those covers crack me up.)

  7. Emma Burcart says:

    This post made me laugh a little because Perry Mason is kind of a running joke in my family. My dad is obsessed with Perry Mason. I don’t mean he likes the show a little, I mean OBSESSED! If you take a look at his DVR, it is full of Perry Mason episodes. And he watches them over and over. He is a lawyer himself, so I understand the appeal. But now when we hear that theme music, my step mom and I look at each other and laugh hysterically. And one of my favorite corny jokes is to ask my dad, “Is this a new episode?” I still laugh every time. It is good to learn some of the behind the scenes info! Now my dad will think I’m an expert, so thanks. :)

  8. Bonnie Dickson says:

    Enjoyable article. It reminded me of a series of mysteries that I have enjoyed in the past and ought to try again. I loved the shows on TV. It was fun to occasionally spot a major star (James Coburn for one) who was on the show before they hit the big time. I will have to give Concordia a try.

  9. Pingback: When You’ve Gotta ‘Go’…in the 19th century | Jenny Hansen's Blog