Friday Book: The Case of the Substitute Face by Erle Stanley Gardner

When Perry Mason meets Mrs. Carl Newberry on a vacation cruise, she is a woman desperately interested in saving face. For she and her husband are newcomers to the ranks of the rich, and they’re sparing no expense at helping their daughter, Belle, make a successful splash in the right social circles.

But Mrs. Newberry suspects that her husband embezzled the company he worked for and their new-gotten fortune is illegal. She turns to Mason for legal advice, and mentions during the interview that a signed portrait of their daughter, who looks quite similar to a well-known movie star, has been stolen from her suitcase. When Mr. Newberry dies suddenly and his wife is left holding his hefty money belt, Perry wonders if his grieving client is really a black widow. . . .

This is a good, very enjoyable Mason novel, and there are enough twists and reveals to keep any Mason fan satisfied.

The Perry Mason television show broadcast this as episode 31 on May 10, 1958 titled “The Case of the Substitute Face” with the plot slightly rewritten but substantially the same. For example, the cruise ship is coming from Vancouver, not Hawaii.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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12 Responses to Friday Book: The Case of the Substitute Face by Erle Stanley Gardner

  1. tracybham says:

    I was reading your description and thought it sounded familiar, but knew I had not read this book, at least not in the last 20 or so years. Then I saw mention of the TV episode, and that is what it reminded me of. We have watched at least the first three seasons of the Perry Mason TV series, fairly recently.

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    It’s been years – probably 40 – since I read this, so have no specific memory. But I liked the early Masons a lot. The momentum never ends with a Gardner book.

  3. Back in the 1960s, I binged on Perry Mason novels. I read a couple dozen in a row so I’m pretty sure I read THE CASE OF THE SUBSTITUTE FACE. I may have seen the TV version, too. I plan to reread the PERRY MASON novels sometime. I have the complete TV series on DVD.

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    My mother’s favorite in my childhood. And I have read none.

  5. Jerry House says:

    Rick, I believe the early Perry Mason books were the best, with their Black Mask/pulpish atmosphere, but i prefer Gardner’s Bertha Cool/Donald Lam novels.

    BTW, I took at look at IMDb’s listing for “Substiture Face.” I had not realized how many times actors were reused in the series. I had known that they had rotated actors playing a judge to add an air of authenticity to the series (Frank Wilcox, the judge in this episode, was a judge in seven other episodes; somehow his character was given four different last names, though). I had not known how often they reused uncredited actors — Don Anderson (for example), an uncredited actor playing a bartender in this episode, appeared in 128 (!) PERRY MASON episodes in different uncredited roles. Just a little fun fact.

    • The early ones are very good, but they quickly became more sophisticated. I can’t recall any of the series I disliked. Yes, they had a repertory cast for the show. Interesting fact.

  6. Todd Mason says:

    You know THE EDGE OF NIGHT began as the first tv version of PERRY MASON…but it was remade because Gardner didn’t want Mason to have a steady romantic interest. The primetime PM started not long after…

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