It all starts rather innocently as Phyllis Leeds, Emily Milicant and Ned Barkler --all friends of Alden Leeds, a former gold prospector who struck it rich in Alaska back at the turn of the 20th century -- approach Perry Mason to help with what appears to be a blackmail scheme. A check for $20,000 made out to someone named L. C. Conway is specially endorsed by Leeds who insists that the money be handed over to a young woman who is not Conway. This odd incident is straightened out fairly quickly but Mason soon discovers that Conway's shady business of selling loaded playing dice has suddenly shut its doors, sold the business and skipped town. Then Leeds writes another check for $15,000 to the same Conway and this time the money is handed over to a completely different woman. Mason demands to know what secrets in Leeds' past demand such large amounts of hush money to be doled out to two mystery women. He learns of Leeds life as a prospector and the accidental death of his partner, an elaborate scheme involving masquerade, dual identities, and a corpse that has apparently come back to life. The case takes a nasty turn when L. C. Conway later turns up with a knife in his back and living under a different name. But the case is just beginning and the courtroom hearing to determine whether or not Leeds can be brought to trial for the murder of Conway will reveal even further complications.
Gardner goes out of his way to paint interesting portraits of Mason's two most famous sidekicks. The characters as portrayed by the actors in the TV show are so staid and conservative and engrained in all of our minds. It's startling to discover how Gardner first envisioned them. Della is far more sexy and actively involved than Barbara Hale ever was. Paul is a lot more colorful than William Hopper's blandly handsome, not so imaginative hunk. Both of them are just as clever and slightly roguish as Mason. They make quite a formidable trio on the printed page and especially in this particular outing.
From a case of blackmail and check fraud to a con artist selling crooked gambling dice to the greed of gold prospectors back in the 1900s culminating in a violent murder in 1930s California The Case of the Rolling Bones is one of Perry Mason's most exciting cases. Gardner has really hit his stride with this book. Fast paced, tightly plotted with some darn clever twists, excellent set pieces featuring Della and Paul, the story ends with Gardner's trademark courtroom showdown complete with a breakdown on the witness stand. It's all here and then some. As Ned Barkler says punnily in the closing, "That's what I call a natural!"
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Reading Challenge update: Golden Age card, space D2 - "book with lawyers or a courtroom"