|Pocket Books August 1970|
Um...pardon me while I grab a beer and some potato chips until our ladies are finished! ...Oh yeah, I'm putting the spotlight on a nifty little caper from A.A. Fair, or rather Erle Stanley Gardner, featuring detectives Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. This novel was originally published in 1957 and lasted through numerous reprints, as most of Gardner's novels did. It's my first introduction to the Cool - Lam detective due and I liked it enough to go out and look for others. Plus, I have a thing for those 70's era paperbacks with the random babe on the covers, like the one shown here.
This is one of those novels that comes with the Cast of Characters printed at the beginning, much like many of the Ellery Queen's and Perry Mason's did. Good thing too, because I'm getting on into my middle-age and I appreciate a nice list of names to keep track of. Especially in a book where the plot takes off in so many directions you wonder how the hell it's gonna get all wrapped up by the last page. But no worries, friends, Erle Stanley Gardner was a pro at this.
As for the plot, well it goes something like this: Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are hired by a wimpy cat named Barclay Fisher to look into a little mess he's gotten himself into. Seems on a recent sales trip to San Francisco, our Mr. Fisher whooped it up too much and woke up from a blackout in the apartment of a young lady named Lois Marlow. Lois was hired to attend the sales convention as one of those curvaceous beauties who ensure drinks are poured and egos are stroked and deals get made. She was specifically tasked to make sure Barclay Fisher enjoyed himself to the fullest. Well, all is well and good, except our pal Barclay Fisher is married to an uptight and righteous cold dame named Minerva. Minerva Fisher can't abide drinking, smoking, cursing and, most of all, philandering! Barclay Fisher feels bad enough that he got tangled up with a sweet young thing like Lois. But now someone by the name of George Cadott has been sending him letters threatening to reveal his midnight cavorting to Mrs. Fisher. If only Bertha Cool and Donald Lam could do something to prevent these letters from reaching his wife, he'd be ever so grateful.
Donald Lam flies up to San Francisco where he meets with Lois. Lois quickly became my favorite character in the novel. She's got beauty, brains, and plenty of cynicism to spare. She also knows how to flash the nylons to cloud men's minds. She reveals that her old flame, George Cadott, has been following her around and getting all sanctimonious on her lifestyle. She's not surprised that Cadott is sending threatening letters to Barclay Fisher. But Lois insists that Cadott isn't interested in blackmail since Cadott has inherited a boatload of dough from his deceased grandfather. Donald Lam's search for Cadott quickly leads to Horace and Caroline Dutton. Caroline Dutton is George Cadott's cousin, and also happens to be Lois Marlow's nosy neighbor. Too goddamn nosy as far as Lois is concerned. She just wishes they'd all take a slow boat to China and leave her the hell alone.
Can you see where all of this leads? Why to a dead body of course! Not only a dead body, but a missing diary linked to a possible murder, and finally a recent kidnapping case. Things progress with a lot of smart-aleck patter and cracking wise. Legs flash, booze is consumed, knuckles pop and capers ensue! In other words, this novel is a lot of fun for the reader looking to spend a few hours dodging the summer heat.