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Top of the Heap (Cool and Lam #13)

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  478 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews

When the beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, the last man to be seen with her needs an alibi – and fast.  Enter Donald Lam of the Cool & Lam detective agency.  Donald tracks down the two women with whom his client claims to have spent the night and the client declares the case closed.

But it’s not.  Something about his c
ebook, 224 pages
Published April 20th 2011 by Hard Case Crime (first published 1952)
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(showing 1-30)
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Come for the complex, enigma-laden, riddle-wrapped mystery, and stay for the juicy, pulp-filled patois of a couple of very slick talking dicks in this hard-boiled classic. Story, characters, tone, dialogue…whichever way you prefer your noir to swing, this third entry in the Hard Case Crime series is packing enough to satisfy.

Donald Lam and Bertha Cool are two people with really cool names. They’re also partners in an LA private investigation firm called Cool and Lam. Bertha generally sits behin
James Thane
I first encountered Erle Stanley Gardner, writing as A. A. Fair, while a young boy growing up in the wilderness of northwestern Montana. My father was a big fan of Gardner’s Perry Mason series, but occasionally he brought home one of the Fair books, and eventually he would pass it along to me if he deemed the subject matter appropriate for a lad of my tender years. Of course the ones I most looked forward to were the ones that he did not pass along and that I had to read on the sly.

I can’t reme
Dan Schwent
Donald Lam of the Cool and Lam detective agency is hired to find two women for John Carver Billings The Second in order to provide him an alibi in the disappearance of a mobster's girlfriend. Lam soon figures out that the evidence proving Billings's alibi has been fabricated and wants to find out why, leading him into a web of intrigue involving murder, a mining scam, and illegal gambling.

So I liked this one but it's not at the top of my Hard Case list. The plot was great but the dialogue got on
Tim The Enchanter

A Great Installment to Hard Case Crime - 4 Stars

After being quite disappointed with the second installment of the series, Top of the Heap provides a large helping of the pulp crime fiction that drew me to the series. Written by Erle Stanley Gardner near the end of the Pulp era, Top of the Heap is a true hard boiled crime novel. With this installment, you will get plenty of hard-boiled and less vivacious curves then in other installments.

Plot Summary

Donald Lam PI, is a partner in the Firm o
Aug 14, 2012 Tfitoby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-as-night
Scandalously this is the first of my Hard Case Crime series collection that I've read in a year. After the success of last year's 20 hour international flight Hard Case Crime-a-thon I decided to do it again for this years trip.

Erle Stanley Gardner, read from Perth to Dubai.

Considering that he's famous for his Perry Mason whodunnits this was a pretty solid attempt at classic hardboiled detective fiction. The character of Donald Lam is pretty archetypal and his adventures could sit right alongside
Det. Donald Lam is hired to locate two women who could verify the whereabouts of a man thought to be involved in the disappearance of well known, San Francisco socialite. Unsatisfied with the outcome coupled with a feeling that his client’s story stinks, Lam lets his instincts take him further down the rabbit hole. Was Lam right to pursue his gut or will he lose everything in the process?

Hardcase had a lot to live up to in providing the reader with an adequate follow up to both Grifter's Game an
The following is an imagined conversation regarding the selection of Top of the Heap for the Hard Case Crime series:

"Okay, we've selected the first two Hard Case Crime novels...we need something next that will elevate our reputation and readership."
"How 'bout a big name?"
"That's the idea! But whose work could we get with a limited budget?"
"Guys who wrote a ton of novels always have a few lying around waiting to be published...Erle Stanley Gardner, for example."
"Alright, call up his people and se
B. Pope
Apr 06, 2012 B. Pope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So in the Easter Basket that my girl friend gave me this year, as a gag, she bought me a two dollar book from Big Lots, that book was Top of the Heap. We got a good laugh out of it and I just had to see how the opening read. I proceeded to read the first two paragraphs aloud, we giggled some and then she went about Easter things... I continued reading.

I do have to admit, I was totally drawn in by this book. I have never read a true detective novel written by a respected author in the field. This
Like the other Cool and Lam pulps by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair, Top of the Heap starts with a simple and shady case, easily solved and paid for only to morph into a complex conspiracy.

This time round, The Cool and Lam detective agency is hired by John Carver Billings to confirm an alibi placing him at a motel with two women from out of town at time of an attempted murder of a prominent mob boss. Lam promptly confirms the alibi only to get suspicious about how easily Billings's s
Nov 16, 2008 Masha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book in the B. Cool and D. Lam noir detective series by the author that created the Perry Mason books. This one is set in San Francisco and LA so it has perhaps particular appeal to the resident of either of those cities, especially the former - it's got addresses and intersections to entertain the mind's eye of the local.
The scion of a wealthy family is caught up in a dark knot which is much more snarled than the girl trouble it seems to be initially. Detective Donald Lam certainly is Cool an
May 10, 2016 Evelyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, fiction
This mystery by Earle Stanley Gardner, best known for Perry Mason, features the detective duo of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, two very disparate characters. Lam is known for brains, and while Cool is brash and calculating especially when it comes to money. One is thin and the other is pleasingly plump. Cool is the senior partner and accepts cases for financial gain, while Lam plays a critical role in solving them without resort to the use of weapons. This one involves the Mafia, financial chicane ...more
Gardner had a nice ear for dialogue and his Donald Lam character is a pretty smart guy (kind of your brainy-detective type). The story wasn't earth shattering but the reveal had more details than about 3 crime novels combined. I'm not sure I care for the whole "Cool and Lam" agency aspect as Bertha Cool comes off as nothing more than the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. Oh, I shouldn't fail to acknowledge Detective Sheldon of the SF PD as Gardner gave that character some good dialogue. Gardner ...more
Jun 27, 2016 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first read with these characters. I
love these old school Hard Crime ppbs!
Edward Smith
Mar 08, 2017 Edward Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really loved this book. I can see why Hard Case Crime reissued this as one of their first books.

Lots of plot twist and turns that only the protagonist has the vision to see with lots of side deals going on throughout the story. This would never pass the transparency test of the times we live in today.

I used to devour these types of books when I was a young teen. Not sure how I missed the Cool and Lam series. It's great to catch up though.
A member of San Francisco's upper class comes to the offices of the Cool & Lam Private Detective Agency. John Carver Billings II hands them a retainer and a bonus of five hundred dollars if they can track down a couple of women who can provide him with a nice alibi. It seems he walked out of a restaurant with a redhead who belonged to a local gangster and the redhead walked out on him. So, he decided to find another date and wound up with a pair--one blonde and one brunette. His problem? The ...more
Neil McCrea
My mother was and is a huge Perry Mason fan. After having watched every episode of the old tv show with her as a kid and reading a couple of the novels when on vacation with the folks, I had a hard time wrapping my head around Erle Stanley Gardner writing hard boiled detective fiction rather than his staid lawyer who-done-its. I needn't have worried, Top of the Heap is a rip snorting, slang talkin' crime yarn in the overly complicated Chandler vein.

The plot is twisty, turny, breathless fun. It b
Charlie S.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 25, 2015 Chazzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Donald Lam...the real working half of Cool & Lam Detective Agency.

When Bertha Cool takes on a well heeled client in need of establishing an alibi, she sees dollar signs. For Donald Lam it is just another job, until he finds out the the client's story doesn't make sense. The beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, a mining scam, an illegal casino, a double do these all tie together and relate to the client?

Starting in L.A. and winding up in San Franciso, Lam is o
Jan 02, 2012 Nathan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A private dick is set on a case that seems too easy. He does a little digging, finds that it is, and decides to make his life a little more complicated.

This one is strictly in the Chandler tradition, without the great use of language that the master displays. Gardner weaves a good plot, but the dick is perhaps just a tad too clever and does perhaps a little too well following the clues that are laid out like breadcrumbs for him to trace.

There is also a strong undercurrent of something going on w
Jul 31, 2012 D M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
this one felt less pulpy (-y or -ie? oh who gives a shit. it's most likely not a real word anyways!) more straight up mystery, jam packed with multiple complex plot branch points. Gardner does a great job of tying all of them up nicely. of course he would, he's the creator of perry mason.

this was the 13th book in the series of 29 based on Bertha Cool and Donald Lam's detective agencies in los angeles and newly san francisco. i'm not sure if you needed to read them in order. this one did not giv
Considering how prolific Erle Stanley Gardner was, it's amazing how much quality he was able to inject into his work. Surely he deserves to be better-remembered; if life were fair, he'd have a reputation similar to that of Agatha Christie.
TOP OF THE HEAP is a top-notch novel from start to finish. It's sarcastic and funny in the grand detective noir tradition, it's paced like a runaway train, and it presents a mystery that's more complicated and well thought-out than what you'd typically expect f
Oct 14, 2007 Mark rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulp_fiction
I love pulp fiction and this Hard Case Crime line of pulps from well-known writers is top notch.

That said, this one was pulled from the bottom of Erle Stanley Gardner's trunk of rejects. The plot was as dubious as airport sushi while the characterizations were thin and rigid.

Now, I have to say, it was interesting to experience a writing style that was so steeped in 1950s gender identity that it bordered on misogyny. There's also the entire culture of treating premarital sex as a unspoken taboo a
TOP OF THE HEAP (PI-California-1950s) – G-
Erle Stanley Gardner - 13th of series
Hard Case Crime, 2004 (Reprint from 1952), Paperback
Private Investigator Donald Lam is asked to verify the alibi of wealthy John Carver Billings II. When it soon becomes clear the alibi is false, Donald decides to find out what crime is Billings is trying to cover.
*** I kept trying to view it in context of the period. It does takes one back to a time before computers and cell phones when detectives worked occasionall
* Hard Case Crime *

Erle Stanley Gardner, "Perry Mason" author, writing as A.A. Fair - Originally published 1952

A good complex mystery. I had to pick this up on the sale rack at K-Mart. Growing up we watched Perry Mason, Della Street, Paul Drake, Lt. Tragg, Hamilton Burger (the D.A.) five nights a week on TV -- the old b&w version. They were like part of my extended family :-)

So when I saw Erle Stanley Gardner's name, I had to read this.

From the 1950's Hollywood nightclubs, to a seedy San Fra
Tim Schneider
Feb 22, 2012 Tim Schneider rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good entry into the Cool & Lam series and one that thankfully Hard Case Crime made available. The rest of the books are a tad difficult to find.

This one has the highly convoluted plot that is a staple of the series. And it exercises Gardener/Fair's knowledge of the law (he was an attorney). Bertha Cool is way in the background on this one and, frankly, that doesn't hurt much because Donald Lam is by far the more interesting character. Fair does a nice job of adding in San Francisco police d
Ken Schloman
I have never been a great fan of the works of Erle Stanley Gardner, either writing under his own name or that of A .A. Fair. I realize that this makes me a bit of a non-conformist among those who are fans of pulp or noir mystery fiction but, I've never gotten hooked on his work. For me, the "Cool & Lam" series is not one of the authors better works. It's OK but I prefer the Perry Mason novels. Still, from a literary history point of view, it's worth a read.This novel is #3 in the Hard Case C ...more
Nov 09, 2011 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008-reads
Erle Stanley Gardner, more familiar as the author of Perry Mason mysteries, shines here in a slick little number he wrote under the name A.A. Fair. Apparently, it's one of 29 (!) in a series, though I'm reluctant to investigate that too closely for fear it'll turn out to be a line of one-trick ponies. Still, read as a stand-alone, this has it all - dames, mobsters, gambling houses, and a glittering San Francisco backdrop. Tightly plotted, neatly rendered, and fun - if a little too smart to qual ...more
Russell Grant
Jan 27, 2015 Russell Grant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A private eye gets hired to run down a couple girls so a guy has an alibi, and everything starts to spiral. This one was a total head scratch-er. Each new clue seemed to point to a completely different case, I honestly was baffled for the most part. Which is usually a sign of poor writing, but while it was confusing, it never felt like a cheat. That's a pretty neat trick to pull off, and just goes to show that they know how to pick 'em at Hard Case Crime.
Mar 25, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really love The Hard Case line and it's because of books like these.

Cool and Lam seems to be an excellent series that I will be looking for!

In this story. Lam goes on the lam and great lengths for his client; even turning against his partner because there's something fishy going on. The smell of money and unspoken secrets drives him to "lead with his chin," yet still he is compelled to do the right thing.
Apr 02, 2012 Kerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Erle Stanley Gardner. This story was originally written under the pseudonym A.A. Fair in 1952 and was republished by Hard Case Crime in 2004. It has the black and white feel of the early Perry Mason TV shows. It is a contrived plot deliberating convoluted to keep the story exciting. The main character is Donald Lam of the Cool and Lam Detective Agency. It was fun. I wish more Gardner books were still in print.
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Erle Stanley Gardner was an American lawyer and author of detective stories who also published under the pseudonyms A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray, and Robert Parr.

Innovative and restless in his nature, he was bored by the routine of legal practice, the only part of which he enjoyed was trial work and the development of trial strategy. I
More about Erle Stanley Gardner...

Other Books in the Series

Cool and Lam (1 - 10 of 29 books)
  • The Bigger They Come
  • Turn on the Heat
  • Gold Comes In Bricks
  • Spill the Jackpot
  • Double or Quits
  • Owls Don't Blink
  • Bats Fly at Dusk
  • Cats Prowl at Night
  • Give 'Em The Ax
  • Crows Can't Count

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“Now listen, Lam," he said, "you’re a nice egg but you’ve got yourself poured into the wrong pan.” 10 likes
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