Monday, July 29, 2013

In the dog days of summer, I thought I'd post a few reviews of Gardner's works involving
animals. I'm starting with a feline book, Cats Prowl at Night. For the collectors, there is a MapBack version of this title available. 

In Cats Prowl at Night, Bertha is hired by Everett Belder to settle a claim against him and take a percentage of its worth for payment. The client has put everything in his wife’s name and has no assets to be forfeited in a lawsuit. He wants Bertha to act as a proxy to settle the claim for him.
In this case, Lam is said to be serving at the front, blocking any possibility of his last minute intervention in the case. Bertha again nearly manages to be arrested for breaking and entering; however, she manages to solve the case even though Sergeant Sellers must rescue her from the killers.
Despite the humor of situations involving Bertha, this is not one of the better cases for Cool and Lam. Too many of the plot elements are recycled from previous books. Harkening back to Double or Quits, two of the victims die from carbon monoxide poisoning. The case revolves around an estate, similar to those in both Bats Fly at Dusk and The D.A. Cooks a Goose.
Before publication Gardner’s agent, Eve Woodburn, asked for a rewrite of the book.

I have read Cats Prowl at Night very carefully. As you know, I’ve always been keen about Bertha and I felt the humor was something extra special in this book. I particularly liked the situation when Bertha gets in the lawsuit and I liked the cross fire between Bertha and Sellers.

Thayer Hobson called me up before I had finished the book and asked me how I liked it and I told him that as far as I had read I liked it very much. He said he didn’t and you’ve heard from him by this time as he is writing you today. After I had finished the book I talked with him again.

I found the ending, ie the explanation of the crime a bit confused. I read it twice yesterday and once today and it still doesn’t seem to be very clear cut. But outside of that, I really enjoyed the book.[i]

[i] Letter from Eve Woodburn to Erle Stanley Gardner, January 28, 1943. Erle Stanley Gardner collection. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas – Austin, Austin, Texas.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Birthday / Traps Need Fresh Bait

Today marks Erle Stanley Gardner's birthday. He was born on July 17, 1889. I thought I'd blog about the only appearance of a birthday for any of Gardner's series characters. 

Traps Need Fresh Bait begins with a rare event in any of Gardner’s series, a character aging. The office surprises Lam with a birthday party in his honor. Barney Adams, an executive at an insurance company, interrupts the celebration. The company is concerned because advertisements have begun to appear in local newspapers, requesting witnesses who saw a particular automobile accident. Adams is concerned because the accident had clearly been caused by one party. The advertisements appear to want to subvert justice as only witnesses willing to testify that the innocent party was actually to blame for the accident are requested. Lam suspects something even more suspicious after he receives Adams’ business card.
Donald investigates and learns that the accident has already been settled with the insurance companies, leaving no possible lawsuit or reason for the advertisement. Donald tries to apply for the job as witness, but is rejected. He meets another applicant for the job of witness there. Lam is accused of murder because he is in the vicinity of a murder while tailing the woman. The plot device had been used before when characters lied to implicate Lam, but in this case, it just appears that Sellers has it in for Lam.
Gardner is especially cynical about women in this book, calling them “creatures of intrigue. They love to set obscure causes in motion to bring about results that will take place behind the scenes.”[i]

[i] Gardner, Erle Stanley (as A.A. Fair). Traps Need Fresh Bait. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1967. Page 104.