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 isThe 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 rounded up to three here.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, MicI've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a hard-boiled, private eye, noir-ish kind of girl. Philip Marlow, Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, Michael Shayne, Sam Spade and their fellows just don't really do it for me. At least not in print. The Maltese Falcon film with Humphrey Bogart? Love it. In fact, if I'm gonna do hard-boiled, private eye then I generally prefer them on screen....and in black and white, please.
But I gotta give Dashiell Hammett credit. That man could write. And I now know why (beyond Bogey) I loved the movie....because so much of the dialog was lifted right off the page. And Hammett's dialog is absolutely right for this story. There are other reviewers that said that one annoyance with having seen the movie before reading the book is that you have Bogart's and Lorre's and Greenstreet's (etc) voice in your head when you read the dialog. I would say that one of the great things about having seen the movie before reading the book is that I have Bogart's voice in my head. He was absolutely perfect as Spade and I think it really helped me get over any lurking qualms I had about hard-boiled noir to have had the visual experience first. One of the rare instances when the movie got things right.
So...for those of you who have never seen the movie or read the book...here it is in nutshell. Sam Spade is a well-worn, world-weary private eye in San Francisco. He's approached by a woman who says she wants a man named Thursby tailed because he's run off with her younger sister. Spade's partner, Archer, agrees to do the job and gets himself killed for his good deed. Thursby winds up dead as well and Spade finds himself knee-deep in plot and counter-plot as the woman changes her name three times, various shady characters show up--all thinking he's got the goods on a mysterious black statue of a bird, and the police seem to think Spade's more deeply involved in the killings than is healthy for him. Spade has to fast-talk his way around suspicious cops, wily criminals, and gorgeous dames in order get out of this one with his skin whole. He also has to figure out who's side he's on...and who, if anybody, is on his. And just what is the limit of things people will do to get their hands on this fabled falcon?
Fast-talking, high-drama, action-packed mystery. A strong, flawed detective. A mysterious woman with more curves than mountain road (and that's just in the stories she's feeds to our hero). A terrific read...and that comes from someone who doesn't enjoy the genre. If you've seen the movie, but haven't read the book--you should. If you've read the book, but haven't seen the movie--you should. Great stuff in both formats. Four stars.
I'm back in the hard-boiled game again...it's my go-to genre for "out of my comfort zone" reads--especially when it comes to a mystery category. I'veI'm back in the hard-boiled game again...it's my go-to genre for "out of my comfort zone" reads--especially when it comes to a mystery category. I've found that the Brett Halliday series with Mike Shayne, private eye, works better for me than most. Yes, we have the tough-talking detective, the curvy dames, and the over-the-top bad guys, but Halliday also puts together a pretty good standard mystery plot. There are clues and red herrings and a real puzzle to figure out--not just tough talk and shoot-em-ups and the bad guys knocking our hero around.
Blood on the Stars (1948) has Shayne returning to Miami after a two-year hiatus in New Orleans. He hasn't even quite decided if he's going to put out shingle and get involved in the Florida detective business again when fate makes the choice for him. He and his new secretary-heading-towards girlfriend stop by a well-respected jewelery shop to look into an upgrade on her strand of synthetic pearls. They are just in time to witness a wealthy westerner, Mark Dustin, drop almost $200,000 on a star ruby bracelet for his wife. Shayne himself drops a few remarks about insurance and insurance adjusters and the next thing he knows, Dustin has landed him right in the middle of a jewel heist, murder, and another round of traded insults with police detective chief Peter Painter.
Celia Dustin receives the bracelet just in time to wear it to a gala concert at the White Temple. She and her husband dress appropriately--for both the function and to display the rubies to their best advantage--and hop in their car to head to the White Temple. They never make it. A black limo forces them off the road, three masked men hold them up at gun point, take both the bracelet and a wad of cash in Dustin's pocket, and give Dustin a slashed cheek and broken hand as souvenirs when he gets a little too frisky in defense of his property. The Dustins return to the hotel and call in the police. Enter Peter Painter: as soon as he hears the complete story from purchase to theft and realizes that Shayne is involved--no matter how slightly--he demands the private eye's presence.
In fact, it's really Painter who pushes Shayne back into the private eye business--practically daring him to find the bracelet just so he can arrest Shayne for being involved. With a challenge like that, how can Shayne resist? After hearing the details of the hold-up from Dustin, Shayne heads out to well-remembered haunts to try and get a lead on stones. And gets beaten up for his trouble. The odd thing is that--given the rarity of the rubies and the fact that cutting up star rubies will make them lose the bulk of their value--the thieves ought to be looking to arrange a deal to get the stones back to the insurance. But nobody seems to want to discuss star rubies or rewards with him. When his secretary is involved in a near-fatal attack and then someone does commit a murder, Shayne is quite sure that there is more to this jewel robbery than meets the eye. The difficulty will be figuring out who really benefits if the gems are never recovered.
This is a fun ride for any mystery lover and I would expect those who favor the hardboiled school to especially enjoy this one. Halliday can write and he delivers the tough-guy detective very effectively. I have a good time each time I grab one of the Halliday books from my shelf and I'm glad I have the Mike Shayne books to read when I need to go outside my Golden Age and cozy mystery boundaries. I'm sure part of the reason I do so well with them is that he behaves more in the classic detective mode than most in the private eye world. He even goes so far as to gather all the suspects together for a grand finale when it's time to finger the culprit. ★★★ and a half stars.
I discovered March Violets by Philip Kerr when I was looking for a mystery either set in Germany or written by a German author for the Crime Fiction oI discovered March Violets by Philip Kerr when I was looking for a mystery either set in Germany or written by a German author for the Crime Fiction on a Europass Challenge. One thing I found while researching was that it would seem that the hands-down winner for German crime fiction is the Third Reich era. So many of the of the novels mentioned out on the internet take place in Nazi Germany or involve spy thrillers during the World War II era. March Violets is no different.
Set during the rise of the Nazi party, this is Kerr's debut novel of a series of crime stories set in Germany. According to the blurb: Scottish-born Kerr re-creates the period accurately and with verve; the novel reeks of the sordid decade that saw Hitler's rise to power. Bernhard Gunther is a hard-boiled Berlin detective who specializes in tracking down missing persons--mostly Jews. He is summoned wealthy industrialist, Herr Six, to find the murderer of his daughter and son-in-law, killed during the robbery of a priceless diamond necklace. Gunther quickly is catapulted into a major political scandal involving Hitler's two main henchmen, Goering and Himmler. The search for clues takes Gunther to morgues overflowing with Nazi victims; raucous nightclubs; the Olympic games where Jesse Owens tramples the theory of Aryan racial superiority; the boudoir of a famous actress; and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Fights with Gestapo agents, shoot-outs with adulterers, run-ins with a variety of criminals, and dead bodies in unexpected places keep readers guessing to the very end.
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of noir fiction or hard-boiled detectives but the synopsis of this book reeled me right in. And, for the most part, I'm glad it did. The period atmosphere is perfect. Almost too perfect, because let's face it Nazi Germany was a very depressing place to be if you have any moral scruples at all. The narrative style is marvelous. Bernie is a tough-guy private eye that I love despite not loving tough-guy private eyes. The twists and turns of the plot are convincing and they pull you in and keep you there. So, what you may ask is the part that makes you not so glad? Two things. One: I am well aware that the hard-boiled school tends to live on ridiculous metaphors. But, seriously, Bernie has more metaphors than a coon hound has fleas. (See? It's rubbed off!) And some of them are down-right horrible. Here are just two examples: "Her breasts were like rear ends of a couple of dray horses at the end of a long hard day." and "She gave me a smile that was as thin and dubious as the rubber on a secondhand condom." Two: The penultimate scenes were a bit brutal. Heck, they were a lot brutal. That put me off a bit. Of course, I also realize that situations in Nazi Germany were a great deal more brutal than that. But it did take me by surprise.
I would like to continue reading this series. There are loose ends left at the "wrap-up" of this one that I'm curious to see how Kerr ties them up. I think I'll have to wait a bit for another dose of the mean streets of Germany, though. Three and a half stars....more