Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Adultery, Murder, and Mirth

The Knife Slipped (Hard Case Crime, 2016), with a cover illustration by Robert McGinnis that features modern-day burlesque dancer/pin-up icon Dita von Teese.

Today marks the official publication date of The Knife Slipped (Hard Case Crime), Erle Stanley Gardner’s long-lost 30th installment in a series he wrote—under the pseudonym A.A. Fair—about mismatched Los Angeles private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. As I explained recently in my Kirkus Reviews column,
Apparently, Gardner concocted Knife as the second entry in this series, following 1939’s The Bigger They Come; but publisher William Morrow objected to its casting Mrs. Cool, a stout cheapskate of a woman who’d inherited her L.A. detective agency from an adulterous husband, as profane and not above gypping her clients. An Afterword in Knife speculates Morrow might have taken issue as well with Gardner’s portrayal of Lam’s fallibility, something that “brainy little runt” was less prone to in subsequent books. This rediscovered mystery begins with an overprotective mother and her daughter employing B. Cool—Confidential Investigations to look into the presumed philanderings of the younger woman’s spouse, Eben Cunner, who works for an automobile accessories wholesaler. Although Lam, a disbarred lawyer, is still learning the shamus game, he soon ferrets out the fact that Cunner has rented not one, but two, separate apartments under aliases. At one of those he’s been spotted with a comely blonde claiming to be his sister, and at both he has welcomed cops and firemen at odd hours. This is obviously not a simple hot-sheets case, but before our gumshoes can fathom its complexity, Cunner is murdered and suspicion falls on Lam and the chestnut-haired switchboard operator, Ruth Marr, who found the corpse. There are plenty of narrative contortions and distortions of the truth in these pages, but some semblance of justice is eventually reached.
Author Jeffrey Marks, who’s spent a great deal of time working on a new Gardner biography, spells out in his blog how his research into the life of that prolific California lawyer turned novelist finally brought The Knife Slipped—“the first new Erle Stanley Gardner novel since 1970”—to bookstores. He adds that “Over my time writing about Gardner, I came to appreciate the Cool/Lam novels more than Perry Mason. That might be sacrilege, but they represent a more hard-boiled, pulp-oriented story. Gardner had plenty of experience with those, writing 625+ shorter works for the pulps. Cool and Lam were the worthy successors to Ed Jenkins and Ken Corning. Gardner could be himself more in these books, and his infectious personality and wit come through in these books.”

To celebrate the tardy but certainly pleasing appearance of The Knife Slipped, I have gathered together, below, a handful of my other favorite covers from the Cool and Lam series.

Bats Fly at Dusk (Dell, 1963), art by Ron Lesser.

Beware the Curves (Pocket, 1960), art by Harry Bennett.

Double or Quits (Dell, 1963), art by Stanley Borack.

Some Women Can’t Wait (Dell, 1960), art by Robert McGinnis.

Spill the Jackpot (Dell, 1962), art by Harry Bennett.

The Count of Nine (Heinemann UK, 1959), art by Stein.

Top of the Heap (Dell, 1959), art by Robert McGinnis.

You Can Die Laughing (Pocket, 1961), art by Harry Bennett.

READ MORE:A New (Old) Book Just Waiting to Become a TV Series,” by Ken Tucker (Yahoo TV); “Review: The Knife Slipped, by Erle Stanley Gardner,” by David Cranmer (Criminal Element); “The Knife Slipped—Erle Stanley Gardner,” by Bill Crider (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine).

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