A mystery novel centering on the apparent suicide of a wealthy business man.
And it is also notable that Hamilton Burger, the District Attoney of Los Angeles County, Mason's arch-enemy, first appears on the scene. In this book, Burger is described as a respectable opponent who wants to be faithful to his duty. In later books, he gradually becomes an one-track minded, stubborn enemy who wants to get Mason by all means.
Rating "Ground Rules": These flaws, and others so staggeringly obvious that enumerating them is akin to using cannons to take out a flea, occur throughout the Gardner books, and can easily be used (with justification) to trash his work. But for this reader they are a "given", part of the literary terrain, and are not relevant to my assessment of the Gardner books. In other words, my assessments of the Perry Mason mysteries turn a blind eye to Erle Stanley Gardner's wooden, style-less writing, inept descriptive passages, unrealistic dialogue, and weak characterizations. As I've just noted, as examples of literary style all of Gardner's books, including the Perry Mason series, are all pretty bad. Nonetheless, the Mason stories are a lot of fun, offering intriguing puzzles, nifty legal gymnastics, courtroom pyrotechnics, and lots of action and close calls for Perry and crew. Basically, you have to turn off the literary sensibilities and enjoy the "guilty" pleasure of a fun read of bad writing. So, my 1-5 star ratings (A, B, C, D, and F) are relative to other books in the Gardner canon, not to other mysteries, and certainly not to literature or general fiction.
"The Case of the Counterfeit Eye": D+
A generally weak entry in the Perry Mason series, not even close to such Gardner classics as "The Stuttering Bishop", "The Lame Canary", "The Substitute Face", or "The Perjured Parrot", to name entries that were published in successive years after 1935, when "The Case of the Counterfeit Eye" first came out, and when Gardner's fertile imagination was approaching its quirky peak.
This somewhat "forced" and very artificial mystery has an other-worldly, disconnected air, more removed than most mysteries from the real world - like a mystery gimmick that Gardner dreamed up and simply didn't want to pass up turning into a novel-length story. "The Counterfeit Eye" is his unsatisfying attempt to put the gimmick into story form. Unsatisfying, because it still feels like a gimmick imposed on the situation and characters, forcing them to behave in ways that satisfy the needs of the gimmick, but not the readers' need for a coherent story in which the characters display a modicum of rational behavior, and the police do not exhibit the blinkered stupidity so characteristic of the drawing room mysteries that were so antithetical to the more "realistic" roots of the pulp mysteries that are the Perry Mason series' progenitors.
In "The Counterfeit Eye" the basic situation that precipitates the murder and its mystery relies on a tangle of coincidences and are unlikely enough on their own, but surpass any possibility of suspended-disbelief when they coincide the way the author forces them to on the fateful night of the murder. And - the most irritating aspect of this story - resolution of the daunting case against Perry's client is achieved by trotting out the most far-fetched coincidence that Gardner has ever had the temerity to use.
All in all a far-fetched, disappointing early effort by Gardner in the midst of one of his most creative periods.