Paging Perry Mason

Aman who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a lawyer, unless you’re Perry Mason. William F. Nolen runs with the next best thing to this idea in “Sharks Never Sleep” by having Mason’s creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, get himself hauled into court. The charge? First-degree murder, of course.

It’s 1937 and Gardner is separated from his wife of many years. A former lover drops back into his life. He had given her up years ago so she could marry a movie star. Now she’s back, seeking his help on a divorce case. Agreeing turned out to be a bad move, and Gardner’s on the run from the police, with only his friends Dashiell Hammitt and Raymond Chandler to call on for help.

Narrated in Gardner’s unadorned style, “Sharks Never Sleep” moves at a rapid clip. But Nolan telegraphs the killer’s identity well ahead of time, offers no red herrings and few suspects. Gardner even wins his case without Mason’s plot-twisting surprises, a sad ending for a promising book.