Book Review: The Case of the Negligent Nymph (1949)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the Perry Mason murder mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Synopsis: While using a canoe to survey George Alder's estate (for a civil case), Perry Mason rescues Dorothy Fenner as she attempts to swim away from the estate with a guard dog on her heels. She claims she went to the house to retrieve a letter that proves Alder is guilty of murder. However, when she is accused of stealing jewelry, Mason is forced to defend her and, when Alder is later murdered, Mason isn't completely convinced his client is innocent.


Due partly to the holidays, it took me longer to read this particular Perry Mason book than it normally does and, to be honest, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get through it. I finally finished it last night and, overall, thought it was a good read.

Case of the Negligent Nymph
Case of the Negligent Nymph

I think the thing I liked best about this book was the fact I was never quite sure Dorothy Fenner was wrongfully accused. Yes, Mason practically stripped searched her to confirm she hadn't stolen anything from Alder's property the first time. But, once he was murdered, there was an awful lot of evidence, including an eye witness who saw her in the room, pointing toward her guilt.

On top of it, unlike many other murder mysteries I've read, there didn't even seem to be another potential suspect. This is the type of book that would normally have a business partner or relative that would stand out. Instead, Fenner seemed to be the only one with both motive and opportunity to kill him.

Mason's courtroom maneuvering was also very memorable. I loved how he had absolutely no way to prove his client's innocence or even give the jury any sort of reasonable doubt but still managed to keep the prosecutor off his game and stall long enough for things to start looking better for his client.

As part of that, I found myself wondering why he was so obsessed with Alder's dog. I suspected he knew something he wasn't revealing but, at the same time, it seemed almost as though his questions were related to his overall stall tactic. And, given he didn't even have any evidence that worked in his client's favor until a last-second visit to the crime scene, I'm still not totally convinced it wasn't originally the latter and he was just pretending he had a plan.

Final Opinion

I thought this book was an intriguing murder mystery and it only became better when it looked as though Mason was on the verge of potentially losing the case because his client blatantly lied to him. If you get an opportunity to read this, I would recommend doing so.

My Grade: A

Updated: 01/08/2021, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 02/11/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
I gather that the book and the resulting television series were popular. The library system has the complete Perry Mason on DVD. Have you seen any of the episodes? If so, would you say that you prefer the book or the series?

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