Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Bigger They Come: Review

 The Bigger They Come by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame) is the first book of the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam series and it is their first case working together as well.  Lam is a down-on-his luck former lawyer who lost his license to practice for a year because he unwisely bragged to a client that he knew a foolproof way to commit murder. No locked doors; no mysterious poisons; just a little loophole in the law that would allow a guilty man to walk free. Cool is a woman who set up her own detective agency as a means of support after her philandering husband passed away. She's greedy, vulgar, and not opposed to dealing with both sides of the law if it means she'll make a fast (untraceable) buck.

We meet them as Lam arrives at the office in answer to a personal ad. He and every out-of-work Johnny in California have lined up to try and convince B. Cool of "B. Cool Confidential Investigations" that he is the man for the job. None of the applicants who go into B. Cool's private office last longer than 15 minutes and they all come out looking dazed, confused, or like they're running from a fire. Lam goes in and despite no experience whatsoever as a detective and his scrawny appearance manages to land the job. His ability to string a story and his former life as a lawyer will serve him well. Here is his take on his employer:

I sized up my new boss as she walked across the office and revised my first estimate of her weight by adding twenty pounds. She evidently didn't believe in confining herself to tight clothes. She wiggled and jiggled around inside her loose apparel like a cylinder of currant jelly on a plate. She walked with a smooth, easy rhythm. It wasn't a stride. You weren't conscious of her legs at all. She flowed past like a river. (p. 9)

Lam's first assignment is to serve divorce papers on Morgan Birks a man rumored to have wealth from a slot-machine scandal. There's just one problem. Birks has apparently disappeared. So, Lam has to learn the ropes quickly and find ways to hunt down a man who has managed to elude both the police and the mob. He's also caught up in a web that involves a lot of moolah, mysterious safety deposit boxes, and a gang of toughs who kidnap him and beat him up in an effort to get him to reveal Birks's hiding place. When Birks winds up dead and the cops try to pin the murder on Lam's love interest (oh, yeah, we've got one of those too), he gets to try out his theory on committing a murder, confessing to it, and walking away scot-free.

This is a fairly amusing introduction to the Cool and Lam combo. The characters aren't quite settled, so the entertainment value wasn't quite up to the standard of You Can Die Laughing (my own introduction to this series). The private eye/hard boiled genre isn't my usual fare, but Cool and Lam are a combination that I can enjoy. Because of his size Lam has had to depend on his wits rather than his brawn and I really appreciate his interactions with Bertha Cool. I have a few more of these sitting on my shelves and look forward to reading them. ★★  and 1/2.

Men like women to be modern with them. It's when they're modern with other men that the trouble starts, (p. 23)

This fulfills the "Size in the Title" square on the Vintage Golden Bingo card.


fredamans said...

I was thinking how slow this book sounds to me... well, just slower than what I am used to... but then I read that snippet and figure I am so wrong. Great review!

Ryan said...

I have one of these laying around somewhere. I wonder where it is.