Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Case of the Howling Dog

The Case of the Howling Dog Erle Stanley Gardner – a Penguin Perry Mason. Cover by Romek Marber – 1963

The Perry Mason series ranks as the third best selling book series of all time, with total sales of around 300 million. That’s more than Terry Pratchett, Ian Fleming and George R Martin put together. Only Harry Potter and Goosebumps have sold more copies.

The case of the howling dogThis makes the author of the series – the criminal lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner –  the best-selling American author of the 20th century. Eat your heart out Ernest Hemingway. Unlike Hemingway, Gardner also published under numerous pseudonyms, including Kyle Corning, Carleton Kendrake and Les Tillray. He shouldn’t have bothered. Perry Mason had Gardner, and his estate, laughing all the way to the bank.

Perry Mason – also a criminal lawyer –  features in more than 80 novels and short stories. Most of them involve a client’s murder trial. Mason’s main M.O. is to establish his client’s innocence by implicating another character, who then confesses. The Case of the Howling Dog was the fourth in the series.

When a potential client goes to see Mason about a howling dog and a will, the attorney isn’t interested. He doesn’t enjoy drafting wills, and wonders if the man should see a vet. However, the man’s next question – whether a will is legal if the person who made it had been executed for murder – piques Mason’s interest. In addition to the will and the dog, he encounters a man who has run away someone else’s wife – and a sexy housekeeper. The latter explains the slightly risqué detail on Romek Marber’s 1963 cover illustration.

In this week’s TLS William Boyd announced that he’d worked out James Bond’s precise address in Chelsea from the details in Fleming’s novels. There’s not much chance of doing the same thing with Perry Mason.

Characterisation wasn’t Gardner’s strong suit. His novels provide very few details about Mason’s family, personal life, background, and education. We know that he lives in an apartment because he’s occasionally roused from sleep to go to the office, but he doesn’t entertain anyone at home. We know his tastes in food because many scenes take place in restaurants. And we know that he is an excellent driver as – unusually for a lawyer – he has a penchant for car chases. Despite the sexy housekeeper, his secretary is Mason’s only real romantic interest.

Other than those sketchy facts, there is so little physical description of Perry Mason that the reader is not even sure what he looks like. Perfect material for film and TV adaptation then.

01_12_PerryMason_S01_396104791_708649212-scaledAs if selling 300 million books wasn’t enough, Warner Bros released a series of six Perry Mason films in the 1930’s, starting with The Case of the Howling Dog. But for Baby Boomers, probably the best-known incarnation of the enigmatic lawyer was Raymond Burr in the  CBS TV series which ran from 1957 to 1966. Since Burr, three other actors have played Mason on screen. The latest is Mathew Rhys in the HBO series which premiered in June 2020.


Plats du Jour

Plats Du Jour, or Foreign Food – Patience Gray & Primrose Boyd. Illustrated by David Gentleman – 1957

Plats du Jour was published half-way between Elizabeth David’s Summer Cooking in 1955 and French Provincial Cooking in 1960. Although not as well-known as David’s books, initially at least, it outsold both of them. And by “foreign food” Patience and Primrose meant mainly French and Italian. This was 1957 after all.Plats du Jour

By all accounts Plats du Jour is a very practical book. It describes a range of cooking methods from braising to roasting by way of larding and poaching. And there are chapters on Pots and Pans, Stoves and The Store Cupboard.

When it comes to the recipes, the authors laid out their stall in the opening lines, “In this book we have tried to set down the recipes for a number of dishes of foreign origin, in the belief that English people may be stimulated to interpret them, and in doing so find fresh interest in the kitchen.” This is not a million miles away from a sex-therapist recommending that a long-married couple should look for ways of finding fresh interest in the bedroom.

It’s a book I wish I’d owned when I learned to cook at university in the late-70s. My flat mate had a much weightier cookbook, the Good House Keeping Cookery Book; literally weightier, it was a whopping doorstep of a book.0852231377 Mark and I vowed to work through as many of the 2000 recipes as we could. I suspect we managed about 20 between us, including an ill-advised attempt to recreate the glossy chicken and ham pie on the cover. As this was the 70’s, the book contained several references to foreign food. My signature dish was Liver Mexican. There wasn’t much that was Mexican about it and the liver was the cheapest we could buy from the indoor market in Cardiff. I shudder to think what animal it came from.

How we’ve moved on. These days I’m a confirmed Master Chef fan. You wouldn’t get me to enter it, but I watch all three versions; amateur, professional and celebrity. In every show we’re treated to a display of cookery styles from around the world, reflecting the true multicultural nature of the UK in 2020, more than 60 years on from the publication of Plats du Jour. I wonder what Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd would have made of Neil “Razor” Ruddock working alongside Zandra Rhodes on the lunch service at one of London’s top Korean restaurants.


Plats du Jour didn’t rely on the gleaming, full colour plates that made the Good Housekeeping book so alluring back in 1978. It’s beautifully illustrated by David Gentleman whose work can now be seen in Tate Britain, the V&A and the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross station. Gentleman’s cover illustration of a family of ten sitting around a huge table reminds us of the sheer joy of eating and drinking together. It’s especially poignant on a day when England’s pubs and restaurants prepare to open for the first time in three and a half months.