Book Report: Up for Grabs / Top of the Heap by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner (1964/1952, ?)

This edition is another Walter J. Black book club special that puts two of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool and Lam books into a single volume. I think that, at one time, Walter J. Black must have been the biggest publisher in the country. That said, it’s not designed to be a heirloom edition; the book does not have a single numbering system and is typeset independently in each of the two novels. That’s weird, but I bet it was inexpensive.

Up for Grabs finds Lam working for an insurance company that investigates potential claim fakers by sending them to a dude ranch in Arizona to see if they act according to their injuries. When the latest whiplash sufferer comes, Lam determines that this guy won’t tip his hand because he’s been tipped off. The insurance company wants to settle, but Lam goes off on his own and discovers a crazier scheme than mere insurance fraud.

Top of the Heap details a rather convoluted scheme involving mining companies as money laundering for a gambling house, at least until one of the mines turns out to actually have gold in it. Then the bullets fly and Lam has to get to the bottom of it even though he has originally been retained to hunt down two women used to make a fake alibi for a banker’s son.

In all of the stories, Lam is engaged to do something simple, but he finds something beneath it that causes him to go against the explicit wishes of his employer. Then he’s beaten a couple times but puzzles it out to get a big financial reward in the end. Formulaic, but enjoyable enough. Unfortunately, the titles are not tied enough to the plots that the title alone evokes memories of it. So much so that I had to look at the first few pages of Up for Grabs to remember what it was about.

One thing, though. Bertha Cool, Lam’s partner and sort of comic relief in the series, is presented as a huge woman. She has to squeeze her bulk among furniture when she’s not flinging it around with one hand like a gorilla. Picture that in your mind. Okay, you can imagine it. Then Gardner throws the weight into the text so you can realize how humongous (add your own echo in your imagination here) she is: 165. What? Dude, 165 is voluptuous, not ginormous.

I really like ESG, both for his Perry Mason books and these A.A.Fair-pseudonymed works. You can expect to read more book reports about them from time to time in the future. Like next year or so.

Books mentioned in this review:

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories