Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gold Comes in Bricks: A.A. Fair

A.A. Fair is a pseudonym used by Erle Stanley Gardner for the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam stories. Flamboyant, fast-talking Bertha Cool is the boss; Donald Lam works for her. In this story, she spends most of her time telling Donald to change his ways, until he ends up making lots of money for her.

At the beginning of the book, Donald is studying jujitsu with a master named Hashita. Bertha wants him to be able to protect himself. He is not a tall, handsome, beefy detective. He is short and lean, brains not brawn. Henry Ashbury happens upon the training session and contracts with Bertha to hire Donald to find out how his daughter, Alta, is spending her money. He is concerned that it might be gambling or payments to a blackmailer. He brings Donald into his home as a physical fitness trainer and potential business partner so that he can get to know his family.  While following Alta, Donald learns that she was paying for the return of some personal letters. He also uncovers a scheme to sell gold mine shares which Ashbury's stepson is part of.



Already you can see how complex the plot is. I was confused most of the time I was reading. And this summary leaves out a lot of the characters and twists.

In this story Bertha is nervous and whiny, and constantly threatening Donald if he does not follow her orders. Donald is persevering and has some good ideas. Yet, together they make a great pair, where alone they would be just so so.

The complexity of the plot and the many directions it goes in did not appeal. Another negative is that the jujitsu teacher is referred to as the Jap throughout the book. A sign of the times, I suppose.

I am always surprised that there are 29 novels in this series. Gardner published the first one in 1939 and the last one in 1970 and they vary a lot in quality. Yet I would happily read all of them.

Why did I read this book specifically? Originally, I bought this book for the cover. A few years back, J. Kingston Pierce did a post at Killer Covers on vintage paperbacks featuring butterfly chairs. I put this book on my wishlist and was incredibly lucky to find a decent copy at the book sale. The cover illustration is by Robert McGinnis.

More recently, I learned of a "new" Bertha Cool / Donald Lam book, The Knife Slipped. It was originally written around 1939 but was not published at that time because the publisher considered it too racy. Before reading that book, I wanted to read another from the series written at about the same time. I will be moving on to The Knife Slipped in the next month or so. This post at The Corpse Steps Out gives some background on how the book was discovered.


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Publisher:  Dell, 1961. Orig. pub. 1940.
Length:     224 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Donald Lam and Bertha Cool, #2
Setting:     California
Genre:      Mystery, private detective
Source:     Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2016.


22 comments:

  1. I have a read a few of Erle Stanley Gardner's books - long ago in my youth - but they were all Perry Mason books. Not sure I'm up for reading these, but I appreciate getting to hear a bit about them.

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    1. Kay, I read a lot of Perry Mason mysteries in my early teens, but of course I remember nothing. So far any books by Gardner that I have read have been fun, but some get very complex.

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  2. That is a fabulous cover! Like you I am astonished to find there were 29 books - he was so productive. I really enjoyed the Knife Slipped, will be interested to hear what you think. I am intending to read more of the series, but that 29 figure is a blow! Cant be reading all of them...

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    1. I am sure I won't ever get to all of them either, Moira, but they are shortish and fast reads. I have about 6 of them unread now. The Knife Slipped with be the next Cool / Lam that I read.

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  3. During Gardner's lifetime, readers (and critics -- including Anthony Boucher, it seems) preferred the Cool-Lam books more than the Perry Mason books. Despite this, Perry Mason remained the cash cow for Gardner. I enjoyed both series but have to give the edge to Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

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    1. I would have to read more of both of the series before deciding, Jerry. I haven't read much of the Perry Mason series lately. But I have read several reviews and articles recently that preferred the Cool / Lam books.

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  4. It is amazing, isn't it, Tracy, how prolific Gardner was. This series never got the attention that the Perry Mason series did, so I'm very glad you reviewed one of them. It reminds me I need to dig into this side of Gardner's writing.

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    1. There were over 8o Perry Mason books, Margot. Unbelievable. And I have never even tried his D.A. series.

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  5. Tracy, I had never even heard about these A.A. Fair books before just recently. In sorting for the library book sale I’ve come across several. I put one in my box of books so I could try one, but I might have to go back and get a couple more! I love this cover.

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    1. Lucky you, Peggy. I don't run into A.A. Fair books often, although I did find two at the last book sale. Sorting through book sale books would be way too tempting.

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  6. I like the Mason books better, but that just a matter of the personalities of the characters. Bertha Cool never clicked with me.

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    1. I like that the Mason books center around the courtroom, Rick, at least most of the time. The last Mason book I read (The Case of the Rolling Bones) really lost me with a complex plot about prospecting in Alaska and multiple aliases. But I always like that Mason is working to clear his clients.

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  7. Well, someone got rid of a collection of Perry Mason books and they had the plastic on them and were in very good condition. I bought a few and hope to read them sometime this year. It's really interesting what people hang onto because I can't find very many Ed McBain books either. The Mason books were a great find. --Keishon

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    1. That sounds great, Keishon. I wish I had found some like that. I hope you found some good ones. You would think with all the books McBain wrote that his would be easy to find.

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  8. Thanks for this Tracy, a Gardner series I wasn't aware of

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    1. I hope you find one to try, June. Have you ever read the D.A. series? I haven't read any of those nor seen them at book sales.

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  9. Afraid I'd be inclined to buy the book for its cover, too. That's, um, quite a cover. I read an A. A. Fair novel or three when I was vastly younger than I yam now, because my lawyer loved Gardner--for the Perry Mason book--and had a few Fairs in his little paperback bookcase, as well. Don't remember which ones I read, or, in fact, anything about them, but you've whetted my interest in revisiting Gardner/Fair, Tracy. It's been awhile.

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    1. Gardner's books are definitely worth revisiting, Mathew. I am sure I liked the Perry Mason books when I was a teenager for different reasons than now, and I was less demanding, but I still find things to like.

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  10. I've never read these, Tracy. But I do remember reading a bunch of Perry Mason books when I was a teen. Sad to say, I tried going back to one of those more recently and just couldn't get through it. P.S. Don't think I ever got over the name Bertha Cool and maybe that's why I didn't try the books. :)

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    1. I think I like both of the series of books by Gardner because of the characters, Yvette. The plots are often too convoluted for me, but I pay more attention to the main characters.

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  11. I like Bertha Cool a lot. She is very strong in THE KNIFE SLIPPED which might be one reason it wasn't published back in the 1940s. My review of THE KNIFE SLIPPED can be found at: http://georgekelley.org/forgotten-books-406-the-knife-slipped-by-erle-stanley-gardner/

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    1. Thanks for the link to your review of THE KNIFE SLIPPED, George. I especially liked your comparison to the Nero Wolfe books. That seems like it would have been a good approach. I want to read THE KNIFE SLIPPED soon, but I just got a copy of THE BIGGER THEY COME, #1 in the series, and I cannot decide which to read first.

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