Friday, December 30, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Knife Slipped - A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)


Well, fry me for an oyster. I didn't expect to ever see a new Donald Lam and Bertha Cool paperback with a cover by Robert McGinnis again. But that's what we have in THE KNIFE SLIPPED. Granted, it's not actually new, although it's never been published until now. It's the second Cool & Lam novel Erle Stanley Gardner wrote, but it was rejected by the publisher. Also, it's a trade paperback from Hard Case Crime instead of a small-sized Pocket Books edition. And the McGinnis cover is okay, but I'm not fond of model Dita Von Teese, so it's not in the top rank of covers as far as I'm concerned. Still, it's Bertha and Donald, and man, do I love this series.

In this one they're working on a divorce case, with Donald trailing a suspected cheating husband who turns out to have not one but two apparent love nests hidden from his wife. Only it's not hanky-panky going on (although there's a little of that, too) but rather something more sinister, and before you know it, the guy Donald's been shadowing winds up dead and either he or the switchboard girl he's fallen for is on the hook for the murder. Corruption, crooked cops and politicians, an empty shell casing switched from one gun to another, Donald being taken for a ride by gangsters, Bertha pinching every penny she can, lots of smoking and drinking . . . Gardner just keeps things rocketing along in very entertaining fashion. The plot is complicated (did you ever read an ESG book where it wasn't?), but Gardner pulls a nice double-reverse in the last chapter and it all makes sense in the end.

There are a few differences. The characterizations aren't quite what we're used to from the other books in the series. They're very close, of course, but Russell Atwood explores some of the differences in an insightful afterword. And although the title fits the book, it doesn't seem to have quite the same ring as the other titles in the series. Or maybe that's just me.

I don't recall for sure which of the Cool & Lam books I read first. I think it may have been SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS. I know for sure, though, that I checked it out from the bookmobile, which means it was around 1964. I've read a bunch of them since, although not all of them. I sort of ration them out and read one now and then. I'm glad THE KNIFE SLIPPED is available at last. I grew up on stuff like this, and I had a great time reading it.



11 comments:

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Looking forward to this one. The first I read was in a book club edition - the last title, ALL GRASS ISN'T GREEN. But I followed it with the second (until now), TURN ON THE HEAT.

George said...

I'm going to reread THE BIGGER THEY COME before I read THE KNIFE SLIPPED. Love the cover on this book!

Keith West said...

I have this but haven't gotten to it yet. Next year, though...

Scott Parker said...

I"m with you, James. I ration out this finite series. Ditto Ian Fleming's James Bond books. There's only so many and I kinda don't want to ever have read them all. But I will. Someday.

And, like George, I'll likely re-read The Bigger They Come first.

Here's a question (and the Afterward may address this): Since ESG wrote so fast, did he write the third book before the rejection of The Knife Slipped or only afterward, as a response?

James Reasoner said...

The Afterword leaves the impression that Gardner wrote the third book after this one was rejected, but there's nothing cited to confirm that. It's based mostly on the characterizations.

Todd Mason said...

Cooland Lam have more characterization than do the Mason books, no? Ever tried dictating a story, as Gardner did so often?

Todd Mason said...

Also, Dita VT simply not visually appealing, or unattractive as a whole person? Barely have a sense of her, but wouldn't call this my favorite McGinnis painting so far. Does have her own vs, generic face, not always true of classic McGinnis paintings...

RJR said...

This doesn't even look like a McGinnis cover to me, but I got the book in the mail today along with the new Max Collins QUARRY IN BLACK.

James Reasoner said...

Todd,
I think Cool and Lam have more characterization than Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street, but the other characters in the A.A. Fair books are pretty much the same depth as in the Masons.

I don't know anything about Dita Von Teese other than I'd heard the name before, so yeah, I just don't find her visually appealing, I guess.

Graham Powell said...

I read this just recently myself. Donald isn't quite as cool a customer as he becomes later, but he still lives by his wits. I don't think the later books emphasized his small stature quite as much.

Cap'n Bob said...

Dita looks a lot better in photos and they're worth seeking.