Friday, June 26, 2015

Forgotten Books: Turn on the Heat - A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)


I've been a fan of Erle Stanley Gardner's Donald Lam and Bertha Cool books ever since I picked up a copy of SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS at the bookmobile more than fifty years ago. I've read many (but not all) of the novels since then and still pick one up from time to time. I love the twisty, fast-paced plots, the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, and most of all the characters of Donald and Bertha. As much as I enjoy Gardner's Perry Mason novels, I think the A.A. Fair books are even better.

TURN ON THE HEAT is the second book in the series. I don't think I'd read it before, and if I did, it was many years ago and I didn't remember a thing about it. This one begins with Donald and Bertha being hired to find a woman who disappeared more than twenty years earlier, after an ugly divorce case involving her eye doctor husband and his receptionist. But of course not everything is what it appears to be at first, and soon our two protagonists find themselves neck-deep in a stew of political corruption, crooked cops, shady ladies, blackmail, phony identities, and ultimately murder. Donald has to be his usual tricky self in order to discover the truth and extricate himself and Bertha from the trouble they're in.

Although physically they couldn't be much different, Donald Lam always reminds me of Mike Shayne, because he's two steps ahead of everybody else in the book and three steps ahead of the reader. I love the little bits of business he pulls that don't pay off until much later in the book, when you realize that Donald was on the trail of the killer all along. When everything is explained, it all makes perfect sense (usually; Gardner was known to lose track of his plots every now and then), and I'm often left figuratively smacking myself on the forehead and saying, "D'oh!" because I didn't spot the clues.

TURN ON THE HEAT is a thoroughly entertaining book and a fine example from one of my favorite series. If you haven't tried any of these (and I know most of you probably have), I highly recommend it. Below are covers from some of the many reprint editions.





11 comments:

Scott Parker said...

Coincidentally, I picked up this one and The Bigger They Come just two days ago to re-read (Bigger) and read (Turn) this summer. I want to see how ESG crafted these tales. I've read Top of the Heat twice.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I haven't read A.A. Fair as much as I have read Gardner.

BISH said...

My favorite Gardner series. Currently reading Some Women Can't Wait ...

George Kelley said...

I want to drop everything and read an A. A. Fair novel Right NOW!

Ed Gorman said...

Great review, beautifully written and developed. I'm with George--I'm Kindling the book right now.

Rick said...

Are any of A. A. Fair's books on the Kindle? Good column today. Hard on the pocket book though...

Ed Gorman said...

Turns out I only found one on Kindle. There are so many Masons listed I may have missed one but meager pickings for sure.

R.K. Robinson said...

Old paperbacks are preferable to ebooks anyway. I have a few of these sitting on a shelf somewhere, I think.

Jerry House said...

Even though Perry Mason was the big money-maker, most readers did prefer the Lam/Cool series. Perhaps someday Hardcase Crime will will reprint more of the series. (He said, fingers crossed.)

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

This was the first Fair book I read. A few years ago I picked up about half a dozen or so of the ones I hadn't read (just checked - it was 7) in the old Dell paperbacks plus one reprinted by Hard Case Crime (TOP OF THE HEAP). Great stuff.

Jeff M.

Dan said...

Does the girl on the cover actually appear in the book?