#948: The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe (1938) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Shoplifter's Shoe

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When charged with republishing the work of someone as prolific as Erle Stanley Gardner, the chief difficulty must surely be where to begin and where — crucially — to stop. As a creator of memorable, compelling, easily-communicated, and complex protagonists the man perhaps has no equal, but as a plotter his loosey-goosey tendencies can sometimes get the better of him…a fact demonstrated no more clearly than in the wild variation represented by the eighty-six Perry Mason books published between 1933 and 1973. So the (thus-far) four titles in that series put out by the American Mystery Classics range make interesting reading.

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#936: Turn on the Heat (1940) by A.A. Fair

Turn on the Heat

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Twenty-one years ago, Mrs. Amelia Lintig started divorce proceedings against her husband, naming the practice nurse at his surgery as co-respondent.  Before the matter could be resolved in court, Dr. Lintig and his nurse and Mrs. Lintig all took a powder and left the sleepy township of Oakview behind them, apparently for good.  And now, someone wants to hire the B.L. Cool Detective Agency to track down Mrs. Lintig for reasons of their own…a mission complicated by the discovery that quite a few people have been looking for Mrs. Lintig in recent months. And then some of those people start dying.

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#815: Gold Comes in Bricks (1940) by A.A. Fair

Gold Comes in Bricks

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I wasn’t expecting to get a review out today, but a sleepless night and the ice-cube-on-an-oil-slick-fast prose of Erle Stanley Gardner combined to make Gold Comes in Bricks (1940), the official third entry in the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series, fly past in no time at all. No, you didn’t miss anything, I haven’t yet reviewed the official second entry Turn on the Heat (1940) — I still don’t own about half of this series, having disposed of my original copies yeeeeears ago — I’ll try to fill in the gaps in my collection and reintroduce chronology from now on. Did I mention my sleepless night? Distraction was needed, and Gardner always delivers in that regard.

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#776: The Bigger They Come, a.k.a. Lam to the Slaughter (1939) by A.A. Fair

Bigger They Come

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A little while ago, on this very blog, it took me just under three years to work my way through the nine novels Erle Stanley Gardner wrote about D.A. Doug Selby.  At that rate, I shall be reading the 30 Bertha Cool and Donald Lam books published by Gardner under his A.A. Fair nom de plume for the next decade (and then the 88 Perry Mason books will see me well into retirement). Famously written by Gardner to prove that he could get a book published on merit alone, The Bigger They Come, a.k.a. Lam to the Slaughter (1939) finds a pair of great characters still unformed, and makes a good time out of a fun premise while not yet reaching the heights this series would.

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#664: The D.A. Breaks an Egg (1949) by Erle Stanley Gardner

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Well, it’s taken me about twice as long as I thought it would, but we’re finally at the end of Doug Selby.  This is the ninth and final novel to feature Erle Stanley Gardner’s District Attorney of Madison County — a place where “they roll up the sidewalks and put them in mothballs at nine or ten o’clock at night” and that in the words of P.L. Paden, new owner of the Blade newspaper, “has been small time [and is] about to grow up”.  Certainly one change is in evidence here: events of the preceding novel carry over in a way that spoils one of the best surprises of that book, so make sure you’ve read The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948) before picking this up.

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#646: The D.A. Takes a Chance (1948) by Erle Stanley Gardner

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I’ve always thought of 1950 as a watermark year in the career of Erle Stanley Gardner.  It’s arguably the point at which prevailing literary trends started to diverge meaningfully from the style of writing Gardner had staked out for himself.  Post-1950 his Perry Mason series is a catalogue of steadily-diminishing returns, being somewhat preserved in aspic in its early-1930s incarnation, and the escapades of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool are saved only by Gardner’s many talents in not allowing that series to ever be easily pigeonholed.  But for me the most compelling evidence that 1950 was meaningful for ESG is how Doug Selby never saw the light of day again after 1949.

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#620: The D.A. Breaks a Seal (1946) by Erle Stanley Gardner

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In a recent conversation on the GAD Facebook group, I was reminded that I haven’t read any of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby novels in a while.   In fact, it’s been a year — where does the time go?  So, Project One for 2020 is to get these Selby novels finished so that I can move on to the 30 cases featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.  And then the eighty-four Perry Mason cases, which, at this rate, will keep me in blogging material until I’m about 146 years old.  But, for today and my belated return to Gardner’s world, we enter a very different Madison County: one where D.A Doug Selby isn’t the D.A — I suppose The Guy Who Used to Be D.A. Breaks a Seal just ain’t that catchy…

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