Friday, August 04, 2006

Gardner Goes Zoom

My first serious magazine job (as opposed to writing captions and text blocks for a sleazy publisher of girlie mags, but that's another story) was on Argosy, where Erle Stanley Gardner ran the Court of Last Resort -- a non-fiction feature that tried to free unjustly imprisoned people. I met Gardner a couple of times on his rare visits from California, but since I wasn't a big Perry Mason fan I didn't try to talk to him about fiction.

Little did I realize that (as Bill Pronzini reveals in his lively introduction to the latest invaluable Crippen & Landru Lost Classic) before he ever wrote about the courtroom ace, Gardner had created many more colorful characters for pulp magazines in the 1920s and 30s -- "Ed Migrane, the Headache Detective; Speed Dash, the Human Fly... None, however, were more unique, well-developed, or eccentric in name and nature than Sidney Zoom, the Master of Disguises."

Zoom, like Mason, was also a lawyer -- but the similarity ends there. Underneath the disguises and other examples of eccentric behavior which spice up these ten stories, all reprinted for the first time, lies the same combination of a deep distrust of the legal system and an equally strong desire to help the unfortunate which probably made Gardner study law in the first place -- and to practice it in my current home town of Ventura, CA.