This over-clever, rapid-fire tale bears the marks of the author’s tutelege both in the law and in pulp-magazine writing. It pivots around Donald Lam, a scrawny would-be lawyer who had fallen on hard times. No sooner does Lam find work as an operative in the Bertha Cool Detective Agency than he’s thrust into a rollicking adventure that culminates in his narrow escape from a homicide rap. The adventure begins innocuously enough, with an assignment from Cool—his huge and hugely eccentric boss—to serve divorce papers on the husband of a new client. But the case immediately heats up. In the process of completing his ostensibly mundane task, Lam impersonates a bellboy, falls in love, buys a stolen gun that turns up later as a murder weapon, and entangles himself with a gang of racketeers who kidnap him and give his dimunitive frame a thorough going-over. Not bad for his first day on the job. On his second and third days, he tops that set of exploits by unraveling a knotty murder problem and by then tying the police of two states in knots as he proves that it’s legally possible to get away with murder. Lam narrates the story, and Erle Stanley Gardner, the author behind the A.A. Fair pseudonym, gives him a clean and witty voice that has echoes of Archie Goodwin in it. Yet the Fair style, true to its pulp origins, is more glib than fresh. Similarly, although Gardner excels at planting ingenious clues, his plotting is complex without being tight. Like the beating that Lam receives, and from which he recovers with astounding ease, this first Lam and Cool novel comes on strong but leaves no lasting impact.
A.A. FAIR. The Bigger They Come (1939).