Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Donald Lam and the Case of Poisoned Anchovy Paste

     A. A. Fair. Fools Die on Friday (1947) One of Erle Stanley Gardner’s pseudonymous soft-boiled PI tales featuring and narrated by Donald Lam, partner with Bertha Cool in a detective agency. Snappy dialogue, adequate characterisation, a nicely twisted plot involving poisoned anchovy paste, well-done ambience, and hints of noir make for a fast-moving entertainment. It’s set in the immediate post-war period with its housing shortages, and women used to independence and no longer entirely happy with remarks about good legs. The cops are disdainful of Donald Lam, but not hostile, and happy to get whatever help he gives them. Bertha Cool is irritatingly one-dimensional. The other women range from barely articulate scenery to people that matter to Lam. Ditto for the men. Even Lam, the most fully realised character of all, is a cardboard cut out with a Technicolor front and a pasteboard-grey back.
     Pulp fiction, but a cut or two above average. Gardner’s Perry Mason series differs only in more carefully imagined characters. **½

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