This may be the best of the ten Perry Mason mysteries I've recently read on Kindle. It's got a real mystery, a problem with duplicate guns (not just two, but as many as four) that Mason and the reader both have to concentrate to solve. It has some real-life legal precedents, honest-to-goodness genuine law cases, which carry the story along and get Mason into big trouble, and it has a client who absolutely must be guilty, until Mason discovers the one way she might not be.
Let's go into the few bad things that can be said about it. The tv series had been running for a couple of years when this book came out, and the business of somebody jumping up out of the courtroom audience and confessing, just because of Mason's eloquence, was a national joke. Well, there's something like that in the SINGING SKIRT.
The tv series also gives us a DA, Hamilton Burger (Ham Burger, get it?) who is so mad at Mason winning all his cases against him that he wants to get Mason disbarred much more than he wants to win whatever case is presently on hand. The fact that Mason wins all his cases because the DA's office is criminally careless about prosecuting innocent people -- hey, that point never even comes up.
There's an overly confusing plot, which other reviewers here have complained about, but lots of Mason books have those, because they come from the golden era of the detective story, when plots were supposed to be confusing. Writers like Ellery Queen would discuss their plot confusions over and over, and at great length, until they were hammered into their readers' minds, but Mason is an action hero, and while his plots and solutions are often tight and interesting, he doesn't have time to repeat his plot points until they're completely clear; all that would just slow his story down.
In SINGING SKIRT, as in Ellery Queen, the solution requires people to take risks of getting caught that no one would have the nerve to take in real life, so you could call that a typical failing of the golden age detective story.
But on the good side, there's quite a lot. Erle Stanley Gardner did use the kind of gun-substitution tricks Perry Mason uses -- used them in real-life criminal trials where he was the defense attorney. He was himself interested in legal precedents, and he was himself bored with the paperwork of an ordinary law practice, just like Perry Mason. So even though as a record-breaking pulp writer he was often fast and shallow, there's an honest feel of real life in this particular Mason case. What vitalized his Mason series in general extra-vitalizes this item, where Mason is more like Gardner, and less like a simple pulp hero, than in almost all Gardner's other Mason novels.
The leggy, sexy woman who tries to distract Mason is sexier in this Mason novel than in his others, and closer to fully naked. He takes his mind off women's legs and moves up to their breasts in a way I also haven't seen before. By modern standards, and even though PEYTON PLACE had already been published when this book was written, Gardner is way tame, but his curvy client here is still best of the breed. She has more character and intellect than his other sexy women, too.
They say Gardner wrote his top Mason stories in the forties, but this story has more speed than the forties stories, more liveliness, more sexiness, and -- confusing as it is -- a less confusing plot than most of the forties efforts. As a rule people either read any Mason book they can get their hands on, or don't bother with them at all, but if anybody in the world wants to read only one Mason, and insists that it be especially good, they should start with THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT. The Kindle version doesn't even have many typos; I counted one or two. Go for it, fans.