(1) The Bigger They Come (1939)
The Bigger They Come is the first book in what would eventually become a thirty book series over a thirty year span from 1939 to 1970 (not counting Hard Case’s lost novel The Knife Slipped published in 2016). The essence of the Cool and Lam series is a mismatched pair of detectives, which includes big Bertha Cool (originally 300 pounds but later a svelte 165 pounds) and brainy but scrawny Donald Lam. This novel introduces the two characters and brings them together.
This one is perhaps a bit lighter in tone than later books in the series and, for those of us who didn’t start reading at the beginning of the series, it’s real interesting to see how the characters started out and what they later became.
Here, Lam is very young, green, wet behind the ears, and not at all sure of himself either as a detective or with women. His background as a disbarred lawyer is emphasized and this one is resolved in a Perry Mason like legal way which makes you wonder if Gardner’s original intent was to sort of repeat the success he had with the Perry Mason series just in a different setting. Perhaps the fact Gardner published this under the pseudonym AA Fair is a hint as to what his intentions were.
In later books in the series, Lam has a real confidence about him and his abilities and even Bertha realizes that he’s the real detective of the two. This is not the best of the series, but it’s an enjoyable read. It’s unfortunate that most of this series is not available in e-book format yet as a little effort and perhaps a library Card is needed to find some of the volumes in this series.
Turn on the Heat (1940)
Turn on the Heat is one of the earliest books in Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool and Lam series, originally published under the name AA Fair. It’s a story about how a few odd clues can lead to a bigger picture. It starts out with Lam being the stranger in a small town on his own ferreting out old secrets about a twenty year old disappearance and the vague and minute clues about what happened to the woman. But what really makes this book is that it doesn’t end there but morphs into a far more complex tale about broken marriages, political mischief, nightclubs, and big city corruption. It’s not a bang-bang shoot-em-up tale so much as it’s a clever wit against wit tale with each party taking what they know and “turning up the heat” on the other.
Spill the Jackpot! (1941)
Double or Quits (1941)
Gardner’s Lam and Cool mystery series is not as well known as his Perry Mason series. They are a mismatched Odd Couple pairing of private eyes. Bertha Cool is an overweight ovebearing penny pincher with zero in people skills. Donald Lam is the brains of the outfit and eventually solves their cases. While these mysteries are not filled with chase scenes or all out battles, they are generally witty, clever, and worth reading. Double or Quits involves a safecracker, missing jewels, a bicycle-riding tennis playing woman, a tricky garage door, and murder. However, its not quite the smooth read the other books in the series are and somewhere along the line, the reader gets left behind on one of the twists and turns.
Owls Don’t Blink (1942)
Erle Stanley Gardner is best known for his Perry Mason series, but he also wrote the thirty volume Cool and slam series under the pen name AA Fair. For my money, it may even be the better of the two series. Cool and Lam is in the great tradition of private eye series, but features a mismatched Abbott and Costello pair of detectives. Bertha Cool is a loud, ill-mannered, severely overweight, penny-pinching dunderhead and Donald Lam is a slightly built charmer whose powers of deduction are almost unrivaled. It’s Lam who always saves the day while Cool provides comic relief.
Owls Don’t Blink is one of the earlier books in this series, originally published in 1942. Much of the action takes place in the French Quarter of New Orleans and is a rather confusing tale of a missing heiress who has disappeared into the enchanted alleys of New Orleans. Murder, Blsckmail, Deceit, and nightclubs fill out the dance card. It all comes together in the end, but till then you have no idea where this take us going.
Bats Fly at Dusk (1942)
Cats Prowl at Night (1943)
Erle Stanley Gardner published 28 books in his Cool and Lam series under the pen name A A Fair. At its best, this series juxtaposes two mismatched detectives, heavyset, dense, penny pinching Bertha Cool, and slightly built, clever Donald Lam, the real brains of the outfit. This novel is a bit unusual for the series in that Donald Lam is nowhere to be found -ostensibly vacationing in Europe. Thus, “Fry me for an oyster” this book is lots and lots of Bertha Cool, and no Lam. Also, it involves a hopelessly convoluted case that barely makes sense and lacks the earmarks of a hardboiled fifties mystery that make most of the books in this series so good. One of the few clunkers in the series.
Give ’em the Ax (1944)
Erle Stanley Gardner is, of course, most famous for his Perry Mason series. He did, however, publish thirty novels in the Cool and Lam private eye series, twenty nine of them between 1939 and 1970, and next month The Knife Slipped, a lost novel. It’s a terrific series featuring the original odd couple pairing of Bertha Lam, greedy, overweight, given to yelling and screaming, with the slight person of Donald Lam, clever, and almost Holmes-like in his powers of seductive reasoning. Lam is more of your typical Hardboiled detective and Cool is almost there for comic relief.
This particular novel has Lam returning from Navy duty, although still suffering from tropical illnesses. A most unusual, but sensous, client appears and they take on a convoluted case involving a club for afternoon affairs, a lovesick secretary, a cigarette girl with legs that just went on forever, an axe murderer, an awful fender bender, and a suspicious police detective.
This is a quick and easy read and skillfully combines Hardboiled pulp detective fiction with lighter detective fare.
Crows Can’t Count (1946)
Erle Stanley Gardner wrote the Cool and Lam detective series under the pen name A A Fair. This thirty-book series was published between 1939 and 1970 ( not counting the Knife Slipped which was a recently published list novel). It features a mismatched odd couple of detective partners, greedy overweight dense Bertha Cool and the slightly built, clever deduction-making Donald Lam.
This plot is a bit contemplated and involves such things as seductive heiresses, emerald mining in South America, thieving crows, bodyguards, mysterious pendants, and, of course, at least one corpse.
Don’t open this volume expecting action-packed madness like in a Mickey Spillane novel. In fact, throughout much of the book, there really isn’t a whole lot of action, but it nevertheless holds a reader’s interest. It is a novel showing off Donald Lam’s powers of deductive reasoning.
Fools Die on Friday (1947)
The Cool and Lam series is the story of a mismatched pair of detectives, Typical of the series is greedy Bertha Cool immediately signing a client who waved around a stack of dollar bills. Also typical of the series is Donald Lam’s exhortations to slow down because brainy Donald thinks the story doesn’t all add up. Why is a secretary ponying up hundreds of dollars to investigate the possibility that a poisoning might occur? This story involves murder, real estate sales, horse racing, and bodies flopping around just about everywhere. Truth be told there’s not all that much of the usual kind of action you find in detective stories — car chases, gunfights, death-defying feats — but the story moves so fast you don’t even realize that. All in all, a good, solid story, very typical of the series, although it doesn’t quite have the kind of mind-blowing pop other stories might have.
Bedrooms Have Windows (1949)
Bedrooms Have Windows is the 12th book of the 28-book strong Cool and Lam series that the creator of Perry Mason wrote under the pen name AA Fair. If you are new to the series, it is a terrific hardboiled detective series featuring a mismatched pair of detectives. Bertha Cool is a heavyset loudmouthed penny-pincher. Donald Lam is slightly built, has a knack for solving confusing cases, and a magnetic attraction for beautiful women.
This story is all about a femme fatale that catches Lam’s eye while he is taking a break from another case. A “small, well-formed package of dynamite. A pocket edition Venus – high-breasted, thin-waisted, smooth-hipped -with large brown eyes and taffy-colored hair.” There are no-tell motel rendevouses, nightclubs, prowlers, peeping toms, maniacs on the loose, cheating spouses, and, of course, murder most foul. And Lam finds himself suddenly up to his eyeballs in all of it and a sex crazed murder suspect to boot.
It is, as all the books in this series are, a smooth easy read that draws the reader in quickly. At times, they are so many players and so many criss-crossing motives that it can be a little confusing, but Lam manages to figure it all out before its too late. A fine read.
Top of the Heap (1952)
Some Women Won’t Wait (1953)
Beware the Curves (1956)
Erle Stanley Gardner, famed for creating Perry Mason, wrote the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series under his pseudonym AA Fair. This volume fits in about midway through the series. In it, Lam quickly realizes that the case they are hired to take on is far different than the client let on and involves far more in the matter of murder, blackmail, corruption, and betrayal. It involves small towns, highway racing, and deep jungle adventures. It is smoothly written and ends with a Perry Mason like court trial with Lam actually practicing law as he was trained to before being so rudely disbarred. With the trial scenes, one may even wonder if this was Originally intended as a Mason story, not a Donald Lam story.
You Can Die Laughing (1957)
You Can Die Laughing is the Cool and Lam series at its best. Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, wrote this series about a pair of mismatched detectives, heavyset bossy Bertha Cool and brainy bantamweight Donald Lam. It is a lighthearted version of a hardboiled detective novel with all of the usual fixings, including mischievous clients, buxom redheaded beauties, scandals, inheritances, property disputes, and missing wives. Gardner really did a great job with this one perfectly pacing it and filling it with lots of good stuff. Interestingly, Gardner’s Bertha Cool is sort of an early version of a feminist out to prove that she is as tough and hard and mean as any man and who constantly finds it insulting that clients are disappointed to find her as the senior partner. She is described here as “one hundred and sixty-five pounds [of] hard flesh, and she was as unyielding as a roll of barbed wire.”
This novel has great characters including the larger than live Texan who is used to pushing his weight around. He is big, raw-boned, with steely gray eyes, bushy eyebrows, and new cowboy boots. Then there is Mr. Wells who apparently is unconcerned that his wife disappeared without making him breakfast and who likes to sleep in if he can. And when the wife appears she is a “knockout in a jersey and very short shorts. She had red hair, blue eyes, and figure like one of the babes in the comic strips.” And, of course, to complete the picture, every sentence she uttered dripped with sexual innuendo even when she talked about housework.
This novel is fast-moving. The plot holds together well. And is just fun to read.
Some Slips Don’t Show (1957)
The Cool and Lam detective series, 28 novels strong, is not that well known these days and is almost unavailable in Ebook format, but it’s an excellent series. Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason, wrote this under the pen name AA Fair. The series centers around a pair of mismatched detectives. Bertha Cool is a heavyset miser who investigates a case like a rhinoceros at a wedding. Donald Lam is a slightly built man who has an extraordinary knack for solving a case.
This case involves a married man, a convention hostess, a jealous ex husband, drinks, casinos, blackmail, and of course murder. Gardner keeps the story moving right along and doesn’t strike a wrong note at all.
The Count of Nine (1958)
Most people know Erle Stanley Gardner as the writer of the 80-novel strong Perry Mason series, but he also wrote nearly thirty novels in the Cool and Lam series about a mismatched pair of detectives, which Gardner wrote under the pen name AA Fair. Unfortunately, Cool and Lam, at this time, is not available in ebook format with two exceptions. Bertha Cool is a heavy-set, loudmouthed, notoriously tightfisted, publicity seeking detective. Donald Lam is a slightly built, bantamweight detective who is cool, clever, and irresistible to beautiful women. Their partnership is odd, humorous, and somehow works. Cool seems to always get the agency in a jam and Lam always seems to deduce a solution.
The Count of Nine is book 18 in the long-running series and features a millionaire, missing artifacts from his world travels, his beauty queen wife, a model who can’t keep her clothes on, and numerous other characters. It is Gardner’s locked-room mystery where a body is discovered in a mysterious locked room with very little access. All of the action takes place in about a day or two and there are few actual action scenes such as brawls or shoot-outs. Nevertheless, Gardner skillfully writes this one so well that it is a quick read. Every book I have read in this series has been great and this one is no exception.
Pass the Gravy (1959)
Pass the Gravy is one of the better volumes in the Cool and Lam series. This is the story of two missing persons cases that intersect with postcards from an isolated gas station. One of the cases is brought to Lam by a 15 year old worried about her missing uncle who is often off on a bender but must play in the straight and narrow to inherit. The other by a seductive siren of a woman who can make men melt by just taking off her gloves or swiveling a hip. She wants to know what happened to her traveling salesman husband last heard from in the company of a buxom blonde hitchhiker. And she is already trying to figure out whether she is a widow with life insurance proceeds or on her way to a good divorce settlement with lots of alimony.
Lam takes the usual vague clues and finds himself traveling back and forth across the Sierras, finding corpses, using lie detectors, and gambling in Reno.
With all the gamblers, hitchhikers, and teases in this one, it has a bit of a pulpy feel. Probably more smoothly plotted than most in this series, it is an easy fast read. But don’t read this looking for gunfights, hoods, and car chases, this is more of a twisted puzzle set out for the solving and somehow Gardner (writing as A A Fair) makes it a compelling read.
Kept Women Can’t Quit (1960)
This novel appears two-thirds of the way through the Cool and Lam series. It has an armored car robbery, a hardware beauty queen, a two-timing husband, gold-diggers, telephone operators, scantily clad broads, cat fights, and sleight of hand. Don’t expect a straightforward plot, but one that has everyone running in circles. A bit goofy, but it works well.
Bachelors Get Lonely (1961)
Bachelors Get Lonely fits well into the universe of the Cool and Lam detective series, Gardner’s slightly offbeat comedic series of private eye novels. The series revolves around the juxtaposition of Heavyset coarse greedy Bertha Cool who takes anything a client says at face value and brainy bantamweight Donald Lam who ends up doing all the leg work.
Here, a thoroughly pedestrian case of commercial espionage develops into a typical fifties private eye world of illicit affairs, no-tell motels, peeping toms, and secret apartments.
Gardner, a practicing defense attorney who penned some 80 or more Perry Mason novels, also managed to throw in some legal issues such as raising questions about the infallibility of eyewitness identification in light of the suggestiveness of police questioning and profile sketches and even a full-scale although technically informal extradition hearing.
Like most of the books in the series, it’s an easy and enjoyable read and is a minor story rather than a major-scale thriller.
The copy of the book I borrowed from the library has a sticker indicating it was presented to the library by Mrs. Erle Stanley Gardner.
Shills Can’t Cash Chips (1961)
When Donald Lam and Bertha Cool take on a case, you know it’s never quite what the client says the case is. There’s always something a bit twisted about it. Despite that, Lam quickly sinks his teeth into whatever is brought their way and works it until something begins to make sense. You know when you open the book, it may begin with a simple traffic accident but it will not end there. Cool and Lam mysteries are clever puzzles where the different layers of an onion are peeled back one by one. Compelling reads but not filled with car chases, shootouts and the like.
Try Anything Once (1962)
Gardner’s Cool and Lam series features a mismatched pair of private eyes, overweight chintzy thick headed Bertha Cool and bantamweight but brainy Donald Lam. A lot of the fun in this series is the juxtaposition of these two although in this volume that’s not really the case.
This is a swift moving, well-plotted tale revolving around cocktail waitresses, motel rooms, fingerprints, planted evidence, and all kinds of odd characters. Lam knows the case presented to them is no good and tries his hardest to avoid getting ensnared and, once he’s in, it takes him a while to put all the clues together. The book also crosses into Perry Mason territory with courtroom cross-examination.
An easy read and a lot of fun.
Fish or Cut Bait (1963)
Up for Grabs (1964)
In the 25th book in the Cool and Lam series, Erle Stanley Gardner, writing under the name A. A. Fair offers a quick tour of insurance scams and Arizona dude ranches. While most private eye stories concentrated on murders, kidnapping, and blackmail, Gardner brought a dose of realism to his stories, acknowledging that in the real world most private eyes are shadowing alleged whiplash victims hoping to find them practicing their golf swing, dancing to the beat, or going for a trail ride on an ornery horse.
Only such things may not be all that mundane when Donald Lam is involved (Bertha is basically a background character here) and before you know it he’s setting records for frequent flyer mileage. It’s a swift moving story that resolved itself in a surprising fashion and quite a bit of fun.
Interestingly, the copy I borrowed from the library indicates it was a gift from Mrs. Erle Stanley Gardner.
Cut Thin to Win (1965)
Cut Thin to win is one of the later entries in the Cool and Lam series. A lot of the earlier books in the series played up the fact that heavyset cheap Bertha Cool and brainy bantamweight Donald Lam were a mismatched set. That isn’t so true of this one.
The plot is a bit convoluted here, but the fun is Lam’s adventures and sleuthing not the plot itself. It’s a great example of why the fictional private eye should never trust a word his client says and should definitely run for the hills before he’s made into a sucker. Magazine sales, payoffs, hit and runs, casinos, murder, infidelity, and fortunetellers populate this book.
Widows Wear Weeds (1966)
Widows Wear Weeds comes at nearly the end of the Cool and Lam series. Unlike earlier books in the series, this one doesn’t play up the mismatched nature of the Cool and Lam detective duo, but instead explores what happens when a detective is used as a patsy. And it’s obvious from page one that something is very twisted about the job this client wants both because of how he approaches Lam but how strange the blackmail scheme seems to be. It’s a fast moving story involving no-tell motels, blackmail, starlets, politicians,photographers, mistresses, murder, waitresses, and breezy Ensenada nights. Lam by this point in the series is calm Cool and collected and he’s got everything under control even with an all points bulletin out for him. This just misses being really good because Gardner perhaps got a bit too clever with his plotting.
Traps Need Fresh Bait (1967)
Whenever Donald Lam gets his teeth wedged in a case, you can be sure that whatever you thought was simple is going to turn into something complex and perhaps into a whole twisted mess. That’s the situation here with an ad in a newspaper seeking accident witnesses, a desperate dame, and a briefcase full of money. Not the best of the Cool and Lam books. Just a convoluted plot and not much else.
All Grass isn’t Green (1970)
All Grass Isn’t Green is the final book in the Cool and Lam series and was written at the end of Gardner’s career in which he published more books than you would imagine possible. This series was developed with an eye toward an unlikely detective duo, heavyset overbearing miser Bertha Cool and brainy bantamweight Donald Lam. Bertha, known for exclaiming “fry me for an oyster,” barely makes an appearance in this one which is all Lam all the way. It’s a lesson in how tiny clues can lead to something far bigger. A search for a missing novelist leads Donald into the back areas of Mexico, to rundown motels, and back and forth across the border, to drug smugglers and killers, and ultimately into a courtroom where Donald plays his best Perry Mason. A terrific enjoyable story that holds together well and is hard to put down.
The Knife Slipped (1939)
The Knife Slipped is a terrific piece of pulp detective fiction. Erle Stanley Gardner is best known as the creator attorney Perry Mason, whose exploits filled eighty novels and graced radio and television for decades. Gardner is not as well known for the other series he authored, the Cool and Lam mysteries. There are thirty novels in this series, published between 1939 and 1970 (with The Knife Slipped, having been written in 1939 as the second novel in the series, but never having made it into publication at the time).
Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are a mismatched pair of odd couple detectives and the series is quite fun to read. Cool is featured as a cheapskate, cynical, hard-talking, heavyset woman. The best description of her ever is found early in the The Knife Slipped: “Bertha didn’t waddle when she walked. She didn’t stride. She was big, and she jiggled, but she was hard as nails, physically and mentally. She flowed across the office with the rippling effortless progress of a cylinder of jelly sliding off a tilted plate.” What a description! Lam is her counterpoint. He is a slightly built, smaller gentleman, who is always getting beaten in fights with hoods, but he is clever, intuitively seems to figure things out, and has a certain charm with women. As noted in the Afterword to this novel, Cool is a bit more clever and thoughtful in this novel. In other novels in the series, Cool is more than a bit dense and Lam is credited with all the cleverness. Here, she seems, at times, to be like a mother hen, taking Lam under her wing and showing him the ropes: “someone has to tell you the facts of life, if you’re going to be worth a damn in this business. I may as well be the one.”
The Knife Slipped was one of those lost novels, never published in Gardner’s lifetime, discovered and finally published by Hard Case Crime. It is a joy to read to anyone who dives into stacks of old-fashioned pulp novels. It is written with a great sense of humor, such as the description of Cool: “As for money itself, she hung onto it like a barnacle caressing the side of a battleship.” The book is filled with nefarious figures, mysterious blonde bombshells, and innocent country girls who suddenly find themselves in the cold, hard city. There are bodies thrown about and murder weapons tossed about as well as frame-ups and corruption and malfeasance. But, what really makes this novel work me is the narrative voice used for Donald Lam and the pulpy descriptions. The client is described here as a “hatchet-faced battle ax with high cheekbones, big, black eyes with dark pouches underneath, a mouth which was a straight gash across her face, a nose like the prow of a battleship.” And the blonde bombshell, “Her voice was the kind that made ripples run up and down a man’s backbone. It was one of those seductive voices that came as a cooing caress to the masculine eardrum.”
For those used to more modern-era detective fiction, the novel might appear a bit dated. It was, after all, written some seventy-six years ago in a very different world. But for those of us who can never get enough of pulp detective fiction, this is just what the doctor ordered.