Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books of 1958: The Count of Nine by A. A. Fair


I have fond memories of reading books by Erle Stanley Gardner. I read many Perry Mason mysteries starting in my teens. I suspect I discovered the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series later. Those books were written under the pseudonym of A. A. Fair. I have not read either of these series for years, so I am no expert on his books.

This month I read The Count of Nine for the 1958 Book challenge at Past Offences. I was somewhat disappointed with this book, and I am hoping this is just an example of a lesser Cool / Lam story. However, my copy is a Pocket Book paperback with a lovely cover, and that may be why I bought it in the first place.

This summary is from the section on Erle Stanley Gardner at the.Golden Age of Detection Wiki.
The Count of Nine (1958), a Bertha Cool and Donald Lam novel, opens with an impossible theft (Chapters 1-8). The theft recalls the criminal schemes found in Gardner's early pulp stories about Lester Leith and Paul Pry. The subsequent murder mystery in the novel is much less interesting. The tale includes the complex architecture sometimes found in Golden Age books.
It is true that the plot is almost divided into two parts. The first eight chapters described above is only 50 pages and covers the set up and solution of the "impossible" crime. The next 130 pages follow up on a second related section with more action and excitement. I found that section of the book more interesting.

Bertha and Donald have an unusual relationship. Bertha is the boss, but Donald goes his own way. They argue a lot but have an affectionate relationship underneath it all.  Donald gets beat up a lot and is not big on carrying a gun. Bertha, on the other hand, doesn't do much detecting. In this book she is hired to watch the entrance of a party and insure that some valuable art objects are not stolen. I am going to have to read more of these because I think I just need to get to know these characters.

I have copies of Fools Die on Friday (1947) and Top of the Heap (1952) and neither of these are very early in the series. I would like to read the first in the series, The Bigger They Come (1939), where Bertha and Donald start working together. Also, the 6th through the 9th books in the series, around World War II: Owls Don't Blink (1942) - Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans; Bats Fly at Dusk (1942) - Donald has joined the Navy; Cats Prowl at Night (1943) - Bertha works alone; and Give 'em the Ax (1944) - Donald returns.

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Publisher:  Pocket Books, 1962, orig. pub. 1958.
Length:   182 pages
Format:   paperback
Series:    Bertha Cool and Donald Lam #18
Setting:   US
Genre:    Mystery, private detectives
Source:   I bought my copy.

26 comments:

  1. Darn! I have never read one of his AA Fair books and this is the one I have too (with a much less exciting cover though) - maybe won't start with this one after all - thanks TracyK!

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    1. I definitely would not start with this one, Sergio. But, once you read a couple of the better ones, then this one will probably be more enjoyable. I don't know why, but it works that way for me.

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  2. Tracy, I haven't read A.A. Fair in years although I read nearly every Perry Mason there was. I don't remember the Cool-Lam series much. What I remember, though, are the Gardner-Fair pocket books with some fine cover illustrations. They actually fit into your pant pocket!

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    1. Prashant, I am eager to read some Perry Mason books too. I have more of those, and some of them do have great covers. I have some on my Kindle too.

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  3. I haven't read this series at all, and I'll wait till you've read another one for me before starting! Read a couple of his other series books - goodness he wrote a lot, didn't he?

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    1. Moira, it is amazing how much he wrote. I can't even find a count of the Perry Mason novels. And there is a "D.A." series with Doug Selby that I want to try someday. I will be reporting on more Donald Lam / Bertha Cool books.

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  4. Tracy - I'm familiar with the Perry Mason stories, but not with this series. Interesting! Sorry to hear you were a bit disappointed in this one, but the premise sounds interesting. If you read another, I'll be interested in what you think.

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    1. I agree, Margot, the premise is interesting and I am sure I will like some of the earlier ones more. This one wasn't bad, just probably not one of the best.

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  5. I'm not especially familiar with ESG anyway, let alone one of his pseudonyms. Never heard of Cool-Lam ever. Not one for me I don't think.

    Good luck at the sale - Hope the knee stands up to it!

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    1. Col, I read tons of Perry Mason books when very young, but not sure how much I will like them now. I will be trying some though, and watching some of the old movies based on them.

      I will be going to the sale this afternoon. I have pampered my knee and it is much better. Hope it gets me through two trips to the book sale this weekend.

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  6. I never did read any A.A. Fair, though I do remember reading tons of Perry Mason books when I was a kid. The sad thing is that recently I picked up a Perry Mason and just couldn't get through it. (Forgot the title) Of course I loved the television series too, mainly because of Raymond Burr whom I adored.

    At any rate, thanks for this review, Tracy. Bertha Cool. Cool name. :)

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    1. Yvette, I think I will like these characters more as I read books. I hope I like the Perry Mason books when I read them now. I know some of them are formulaic.

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  7. Never read any ESG, Tracy. But we never missed the show! I would have bought this book for the cover alone too!

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    1. Peggy, I remember watching a lot of the Perry Mason TV shows too. I loved all the characters.

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  8. My mother didn't have many books, but she loved Perry Mason and had some of his books on our shelves. When I think back on 1958, I remember him.

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    1. Patti, I must have gotten my Perry Mason books from the library, because neither of my parents read fiction. I can't imagine that, and I don't know why I turned into such a big reader (except that I was shy and introverted).

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  9. The Cool & Lam books are still among the books I reach for when I'm too stressed or too ill to enjoy new books. Lam is still my all-time favorite detective; there's none better when it comes to sussing out all the angles.

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    1. That is encouraging, Naomi. I want to read more of these.

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  10. I have one of these, but I don't remember which, cause I haven't it read it yet.

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    1. I hope you like it, Ryan. I will look forward to hearing what you think.

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  11. I read slews of Perry Mason books as a teenager, and the library had them and my father bought some of them.

    The family would gather around and watch the TV shows, which we loved, especially Raymond Burr's performance and his denouements in the middle of a trial, finding the real criminal.

    However, I tried to watch some of the TV episodes recently, and they seemed very dated, and I turned them off.

    I don't know. With Nero Wolfe, I can read or watch the shows and they capture my attention, but not so with Perry Mason, whose cases sent me into a lifetime of loving legal mysteries.

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    1. Kathy, I hope I like the TV shows better than you did. I am definitely going to try some soon. But I want to read some of the books first, so maybe not too soon.

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  12. I really am anxious to read his work. I bought several of his books that were sale.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Tracy, I've fixed that commenting issue and restored everything. Sorry about the trouble. I'm not sure why it happened but hopefully it's fixed.

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    3. Keishon, I am eager to know what you think of his books. Not everyone likes them and they are variable.

      Thanks for looking into the commenting problem. I will come by and try my luck.

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