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Literature / The Case of the Velvet Claws

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The Case of the Velvet Claws is a 1933 novel by Erle Stanley Gardner. It was the first ever Perry Mason novel.

Into Perry's law office strolls sexy femme fatale Eva Griffin. It seems that Eva was out having dinner with Harrison Burke, a well-known politician, when there was a robbery at the restaurant. Eva and Harrison made their way out, but the cops know that Harrison had a woman with him. A scandal sheet named Spicy Bits gets wind of this and is preparing to publish. Eva, who is married, enlists Perry to pay off Frank Locke, the editor of Spicy Bits.

Perry accepts the job reluctantly, since he disapproves of paying off blackmailers. In fact, his meeting with Locke is a fiasco as Perry insults Locke and Locke vows to publish. Perry soon learns a couple of surprising facts: the real publisher of Spicy Bits is not Locke (a front man), but wealthy high-society businessman George Belter. And Eva is Belter's wife.

Events take a turn when George Belter is murdered. Suspicion focuses on Eva, but the scheming Eva tells Perry that she'll implicate him. Perry finds himself needing to clear both his client and himself.

Adapted into a movie, The Case of the Velvet Claws, in 1936. Later adapted again into a 1963 episode of the Raymond Burr TV show.


  • Asshole Victim: George Belter is not just rude and abrasive, he's also a blackmail artist.
  • As You Know:
    • When Perry is pushing Paul Drake to find who the gun's registered to before the cops do, he says "You represented the Merchants Protective Association that kept duplicate records of all firearms sold in the city."
    • Perry feels compelled to tell Della that the reason Della dislikes Eva is because while Eva is a Gold Digger, "You’re different. Your family was rich. Then they lost their money. You went to work."
  • Badass Boast: Perry's first appearance has him sum up his practice in two short-yet-powerful words:
    Mason: People that come to me don't come to me because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they've known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.
    Eva Griffin (client): Just what is it that you do, Mr. Mason?
    Mason: I fight.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Perry isn't a blackmailer or a murderer like some of the villains in this story, but he does twice get a witness to lie in order to get another witness to cooperate. He justifies this by saying that it isn't perjury if it's not in court.
  • Blackmail: Mrs. Veitch saw Carl committing murder, and uses it as leverage to force him into marrying Norma.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Frank Locke insists that Spicy Bits is "not a blackmail sheet." No sir, they just sell advertising space, which of course they collect whether the target actually places an advertisement or not. Perry then says that he'll buy advertising space as long as they don't run that story about the restaurant robbery.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Perry does this twice. First, he gets Eva to confess to shooting her husband by presenting Mrs. Veitch (the housekeeper) and claiming that she had ratted Eva out, when that wasn't true. Later, after Perry figures out that Eva didn't actually shoot her husband (although she thought she had), he gets Norma Veitch to identify Carl as the killer by telling her that Carl fingered her. Mrs. Veitch, who is on the scene for this second instance as well, screams "It's a bluff!" but to no avail.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: The narration says of Esther Linten (Locke's girlfriend) that "her figure would have been the delight of a sculptor."
  • The Case Of: Although this trope dates back to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it's this immensely popular series that was the Trope Codifier, as every book had some sort of punchy "The Case Of" title to draw reader interest.
  • Chalk Outline: At Perry's Summation Gathering at the murder scene, he notes that the chalk outline of George Belter's body is still on the floor.
  • Femme Fatale: Eva attempts to seduce Perry to get him to do her bidding, and when that doesn't work, she says she'll tell the police that Perry was the one who shot George.
  • Forging the Will: The will leaving everything to Belter's nephew Carl Griffin is a forgery. This turns out to be an unusual example in that Belter actually did leave everything to Carl. Eva, who knows that Carl knows about the will, destroys the genuine copy and forges another will leaving everything to Carl, intending for it to be exposed as a forgery.
  • Gold Digger: Everybody knows that Eva only married George Belter because he's rich.
  • Indy Ploy: How the murder went down. Eva didn't actually shoot George; she pulled the trigger as she was running away and the bullet missed. George makes the fatal mistake of telling Carl about this. As soon as he hears this story Carl shoots and kills George, realizing that the murder will get pinned on Eva and even she will think she did it.
  • Inheritance Murder: Carl murdered George after learning he's supposed to be the sole inheritor of his uncle's possessions.
  • Kimono Fanservice: Esther Linten, previously established as very curvy and hot, later answers her door in "a kimono which opened in the front sufficiently to reveal pink silk underwear."
  • Not Quite Dead: Eva thinks she killed George but her bullet missed. This allows Carl to kill George for real.
  • The Perry Mason Method: Averted! The actual Trope Codifier is the iconic Raymond Burr TV show, but in this novel Perry never even has to go to court. (Most of the novels did not use this trope.)
  • Sequel Hook: The novel ends with the arrival of another sexy female client needing help. Della describes her as "sulky". The next novel was The Case of the Sulky Girl.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Chapter 7 begins with "A storm was whipping up from the southeast." It starts pouring rain. That's the chapter where George Belter is murdered.
  • Title Drop: Della, who loathes Eva, calls her "all velvet and claws!"