Read Top of The Heap by A.A. Fair Erle Stanley Gardner Online


SHE PLAYED THE ODDS – AND LOST! When the beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, the last man to be seen with her needs an alibi – and fast.  Enter Donald Lam of the Cool & Lam detective agency.  Donald tracks down the two women with whom his client claims to have spent the night and the client declares the case closed. But it’s not.  Something about hisSHE PLAYED THE ODDS – AND LOST! When the beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, the last man to be seen with her needs an alibi – and fast.  Enter Donald Lam of the Cool & Lam detective agency.  Donald tracks down the two women with whom his client claims to have spent the night and the client declares the case closed. But it’s not.  Something about his client’s story doesn’t add up, and Donald can’t resist the temptation to keep digging.  Before he knows it, he’s dug up connections to a mining scam, an illegal casino, and a double homicide – plus an opportunity for an enterprising private eye to make a small fortune, if he can just stay alive long enough to cash in on it!...

Title : Top of The Heap
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780843953527
Format Type : Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages : 222 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Top of The Heap Reviews

  • James Thane
    2019-04-24 03:02

    I first encountered Erle Stanley Gardner, writing as A. A. Fair, while a young boy growing up in the wilderness of northwestern Montana. My father was a big fan of Gardner’s Perry Mason series, but occasionally he brought home one of the Fair books, and eventually he would pass it along to me if he deemed the subject matter appropriate for a lad of my tender years. Of course the ones I most looked forward to were the ones that he did not pass along and that I had to read on the sly. I can’t remember into which category Top of The Heap might have fallen. There is a stripper in the book, along with a couple of other women of questionable virtue, and so I’m betting that this is one that Dad didn’t recommend.The A. A. Fair series featured a team of detectives, Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. Lam was the brainy, pint-sized detective who did all of the work, while the bejeweled, avaricious, and considerably overweight Bertha, who had founded the agency, mainly sat behind the desk and gave her partner grief. Donald had a gift when it came to the fairer sex, and women usually fell for him fast and hard. As a small boy myself, I found it very encouraging to think that a guy who was only about five-six and 135 pounds could still do so well with the ladies. Occasionally, though, Donald would encounter a “dame” who, for some inexplicable reason, was immune to his charms and needed to have the living bejesus scared out of her. At that point, he would call in the reinforcements, and Bertha would bestir herself and swing into action. Before long, the woman in question would be reduced to a sniveling mass of quivering flesh, willing and anxious to provide any information or assistance that the firm of Cool and Lam might require.As I recall, these books usually followed a predictable pattern. A new client would appear in the office with a job for the agency. The client always had a story of some sort and usually offered a large bonus for quick results. Bertha, who handled the money and the administrative details, would grow wide-eyed at the apparent simplicity of the assignment and at the size of the potential bonus. She would then call Donald in and give him instructions. Donald, of course, would immediately recognize that the client was not on the level and that something much deeper was going on. Bertha would instruct him to ignore his doubts and do the job as quickly as possible so that the agency could collect the bonus. Donald would generally agree, but then once out of the office would follow his own intuition. Inevitably, of course, the client was always lying; there was always something deeper and very sinister going on, and again, inevitably, someone would get murdered. Determined to ferret out the truth, Donald would always be up to his neck in trouble with the police and with a furious Bertha who was breathing down his neck, often threatening to dissolve the partnership and kick Donald out. But then in the nick of time, Donald would solve the case, often generating a bigger fee than Bertha had ever imagined, and in the end everyone was happy again until the next client walked into the office."Top of the Heap" falls into the middle of the series and follows the usual pattern. By now Donald has become a partner in the agency when a wealthy client appears. The client wants the firm to identify and find a couple of women the client met casually a few nights earlier so that they confirm that they were with him on the evening in question. Their evidence will provide the client with an alibi in a relatively minor matter and of course the client offers the usual large bonus for quick results.Although Donald advises against it, Bertha eagerly agrees to take the case. Donald quickly discovers that the client is a fraud and that he desperately needs an alibi for something much larger than the minor matter he alleges. The book takes off from there and involves gangsters, crooked gamblers, lonely women, wealthy bankers, suspicious miners and two or three murders in a plot that’s almost too convoluted to follow, let alone describe.Suffice it to say that the fun in these books always lay in watching Donald Lam work, rather than in the plots themselves. As in the Perry Mason series, Gardner here too often wove together impossible and totally implausible plots and then had either Mason or Lam sort things out in the last few pages in a way that left the reader shaking his head trying to follow it all."Top of the Heap" was an early entry in the Hard Case Crime series, and I would certainly argue that Donald Lam and Bertha Cool deserved at least one spot in the series, if not two or three. But I’m not sure why the editor chose this particular book. It’s not bad but, if I’m remembering correctly, there were others in the series that were better. In particular, much of this book takes place in San Francisco, rather than in Los Angeles where the agency and virtually all of the other books were located. Lam is largely on his own in this book without the usual cast of characters that appears in most of the others, and Bertha Cool’s role is much smaller here than in most of the other books in the series.The A. A. Fair books have been out of print for years and are virtually impossible to find anymore (unless, of course, you inherited your father’s collection), and "Top of the Heap" may be the only entry that is readily available. Fans of crime fiction, particularly those who enjoy pulp fiction would probably enjoy reading this book as an example of a series that was once enormously popular, even though it is now hopelessly dated.

  • Stephen
    2019-05-16 09:50

    Come for the complex, enigma-laden, riddle-wrapped mystery, and stay for the juicy, pulp-filled patois of a couple of very slick talking dicks in this hard-boiled classic. Story, characters, tone, dialogue…whichever way you prefer your noir to swing, this third entry in the Hard Case Crime series is packing enough to satisfy. Donald Lam and Bertha Cool are two people with really cool names. They’re also partners in an LA private investigation firm called Cool and Lam. Bertha generally sits behind her desk being angry while Donald goes out and does the leg work for the pair. The son of a wealthy San Francisco banker hires the pair to locate two women he was with the night a ruthless wise-guy’s squeeze got iced. Junior wants these women to alibi him if and when he gets implicated in the murder since he was the last one seen with the recently expired. Junior is a giant tool. Donald quickly finds the girls and seemingly wraps the matter up, entitling Cool and Lam to a big, fat bonus of $500 (this is 1950’s when that meant something). Of course, things are never that easy and Donald quickly finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that would give Oliver Stone a priapism. The complexity of this thing is really a work of art has more layers than an everlasting gobstopper. You’ve got strippers and sleeping pills, boats and bodies, wise-guys and turf wars, life insurance and last wills, bank loans and bankruptcies, gold mines and gambling outfits, stock schemes and sales calls and murders and mistresses aplenty. Sound good?Oh, and if you are in need of an injection of that slick, hard-boiled jargon, you will be riding the dragon throughout: He said it with the air of a man who always demands the best, and then settles for what he can get.…‘You talk big as hell for a little guy.’‘That makes for a fair average.’ …‘Now listen, Lam,’ he said, ‘you’re a nice egg but you’ve got yourself poured into the wrong pan.’That last one belongs in the Hall of Fame of Coolness. Overall, this was a good, solid read and the central mystery was wonderfully convoluted and clever. I didn’t like Donald and Bertha as much as the main characters in the first two installments which is why it’s being dinged a star on its total. Still, certainly worth reading and one that has me happily moving onto the next book in the series. 3.0 to 3.5 Stars. Recommended.

  • Dan Schwent
    2019-04-27 03:06

    Donald Lam of the Cool and Lam detective agency is hired to find two women for John Carver Billings The Second in order to provide him an alibi in the disappearance of a mobster's girlfriend. Lam soon figures out that the evidence proving Billings's alibi has been fabricated and wants to find out why, leading him into a web of intrigue involving murder, a mining scam, and illegal gambling.So I liked this one but it's not at the top of my Hard Case list. The plot was great but the dialogue got on my nerves after awhile. It seemed like everyone spoke in detective lingo. This was particularly annoying when Lam was talking to the widow Bishop and Billings's lady friends. The mining scam seemed overly complex. Other than that, I thought it was really entertaining.

  • Tim The Enchanter
    2019-05-13 03:52

    A Great Installment to Hard Case Crime - 4 StarsAfter being quite disappointed with the second installment of the series, Top of the Heap provides a large helping of the pulp crime fiction that drew me to the series. Written by Erle Stanley Gardner near the end of the Pulp era, Top of the Heap is a true hard boiled crime novel. With this installment, you will get plenty of hard-boiled and less vivacious curves then in other installments. Plot Summary Donald Lam PI, is a partner in the Firm of Cool and Lam. We are immediately introduced to him and his partner as they work together to vet a potential client. They soon have a cash retainer in hand and the potential of more if there is success. The client seems quite interested in confirming an alibi for the night that a prominent moll went missing. Lam smells a rat and feels like he is being used to cover up a crime. His partner doesn't care as she only sees the cold hard cash. Lam lets his curiosity get the best of him and he finds himself uncovering complicated web of deceit and crime that no only leads him in directions he did not expect but also puts himself in danger. My Thoughts I was actually a bit surprised by this novel. When I pick up a book in this series, I expect a short and easy read to clean my palate before another book. What surprised me about this installment was the depth of the plot. The plot was rather intelligent and involved. Given the fact it was only 222 pages, I was impressed with how the author managed to squeeze so much plot into such a small space.That did cause a few issues thought. The biggest was the ultimate resolution. The big plot and the short page count resulted is and big info dump conclusion. Much of the resolutions was worked out by the coolheaded PI and some elements were not developed for the reader to figure out. While this was a bit disappointing, I didn't feel like it was detrimental to the book overall.I eluded earlier to the fact I found the plot to be rather intelligent. I meant it in the sense that involved some good old fashioned blue collar crime and a healthy dose of white collar crime. There is a line of the investigation that involves stocks and some sly financial dealings. I found this vein to be interesting and a bit more complex than the normal run of the mill crime. Can this be read as a Standalone NovelYes. The books in the Hard Case Crime Series can generally be read in any order you wish. This book is actually part of separate series written by the author and coopted in the Hard Case Crime series. I was not aware of this fact until after I read the novel. It was a non issue and I did not feel like I missed anything. Final Thoughts Another great installment in the Hard Case Crime Series written by a true Hard Boiled Crime author. For a quick read and an interesting story, I recommend you pick up this volume.Content AdvisoriesIt is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations. When reviewing language, mild obscenities are words like, shit, hell or damn. Religious exclamations are words such as Christ or Jesus when used as profanity.Scale 1 - Lowest 5 - Highest Sex-1.5 Unlike the first couple in the series, this one did not included much in the way of buxom beauties and sultry broads. There were a couple of instances where sex was implied LanguageMild Obscenities - 104 F-Words - 0 Religious Exclamations - 0 Violence-2 There are several murders and bit of roughing up in the book. The murders are not seen first hand and form the backstory. The descriptions are not graphic.

  • Tfitoby
    2019-04-28 06:02

    Scandalously this is the first of my Hard Case Crime series collection that I've read in a year. After the success of last year's 20 hour international flight Hard Case Crime-a-thon I decided to do it again for this years trip.Erle Stanley Gardner, read from Perth to Dubai.Considering that he's famous for his Perry Mason whodunnits this was a pretty solid attempt at classic hardboiled detective fiction. The character of Donald Lam is pretty archetypal and his adventures could sit right alongside Mike Hammer or Mike Shayne, only with a slightly less abrasive tone, far less misogyny and not as bloody in the beatings department.The major drawback for me with this one is that Gardner tells his story through pages and pages of expositional dialogue, that aside I think I'll be much less hesitant in trying others of his republished in the Hard Case line in future.

  • Dave
    2019-05-19 08:46

    Erle Stanley Gardner is a lawyer who ran his law practice in Ventura, California. However, given how prolific a writer he was, it is not clear how he ever found time to practice law. He is best known as the author of the Perry Mason series, but Gardner also wrote a mere 30 books in the Cool and Lam series under the pen name A.A. Fair. Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are partners in the private eye business. Top of the Heap was originally published in 1952 and has now been re-issued as part of the Hard Case Crime series. It is a truly excellent hardboiled detective novel. It does not focus on flowery descriptions, but is filled with action from page one right through to the end. Ultimately, there is a lot of stuff that Lam uncovers, including a number of bodies, gangsters, gambling houses, point shaving, a former stripper now a rich widow, and phantom gold mines that are used to funnel money from gambling winnings.This work feels in many ways typical of many of the hardboiled detective novels of the 1950s with a lone man going against criminals and the law, convinced of the justice of his own cause. Few books flow this smoothly and quickly with little pause in the action. Given the enormous output of Gardner over the years, it is surprising how good his work really was.I highly recommend this one. It is, indeed, the top of the heap.

  • Brandon
    2019-04-25 04:11

    Det. Donald Lam is hired to locate two women who could verify the whereabouts of a man thought to be involved in the disappearance of well known, San Francisco socialite. Unsatisfied with the outcome coupled with a feeling that his client’s story stinks, Lam lets his instincts take him further down the rabbit hole. Was Lam right to pursue his gut or will he lose everything in the process?Hardcase had a lot to live up to in providing the reader with an adequate follow up to both Grifter's Game and Fade To Blonde - but I’m not sure this was the best choice. There were aspects about this that I really liked, most notably Donald Lam himself. His dialogue was snappy and at times, pretty funny. What can I say, I love my detectives to show some backbone as well as having razor sharp wit.Lam is a smart guy, his decisions and assumptions seem to come out on the right side of things more often than not. He must have one hell of a poker face because he’s an expert in the field of bluffing. He could probably tell you that the sky is green and you’d second guess yourself.Some of the supporting cast were a little strange - especially Lam’s partner, Brenda. While I understood why she had been upset following a specific event, you’d think that with this being the 22nd installment of the series, she’d be a little more confident with Lam’s skills as a detective.While I liked it, it didn’t leave me with the same lasting impression that either of the first two books did. However, I think I may be completely hooked on this publisher.

  • Sam
    2019-05-03 07:54

    The following is an imagined conversation regarding the selection of Top of the Heap for the Hard Case Crime series:"Okay, we've selected the first two Hard Case Crime novels...we need something next that will elevate our reputation and readership.""How 'bout a big name?""That's the idea! But whose work could we get with a limited budget?""Guys who wrote a ton of novels always have a few lying around waiting to be published...Erle Stanley Gardner, for example.""Alright, call up his people and see if we can get something on the cheap."---"Well, they're going to let us have one...""You don't sound very excited about it.""Well, boss, it's not very good.""It can't be that bad...but I'm guessing it's no Perry Mason.""No, it's a D. Lam and B. Cool novel.""Hey, that's something! What's the problem?""It doesn't make any sense...and not in that Big Sleep way either. I mean, it's about stocks and investments and crooked accounting. I spent more time trying to figure out what the hell was going in the book than it took me to read it. And I'm a CPA!""Well, you know what they say, you can't make an omelet without using a few rotten eggs!""I'm pretty sure that's not how that goes."

  • B. Pope
    2019-04-22 03:13

    So in the Easter Basket that my girl friend gave me this year, as a gag, she bought me a two dollar book from Big Lots, that book was Top of the Heap. We got a good laugh out of it and I just had to see how the opening read. I proceeded to read the first two paragraphs aloud, we giggled some and then she went about Easter things... I continued reading.I do have to admit, I was totally drawn in by this book. I have never read a true detective novel written by a respected author in the field. This one is written by the same guy who wrote the Perry Mason novels - and as a kid I was totally entranced by the Perry Mason tv show. The book is about a detective, Donald Lam from the agency Cool and Lam, who is hired to confirm an alibi for a client. He does this in short order, but it was all a little too easy, too smooth and the whole thing doesn't sit right with Lam. The plot is really about Lam trying to uncover why this alibi is important and what is trying to be hidden. There's a countless number of twists and turns. There's violence, murder, gambling, a lot of bluffing and Lam totally comes off as a true film noir style private eye who is still quite human (I mean, he makes a few really bad decisions). The story is totally convoluted and if you aren't careful sometimes it is hard to follow. The characters are both at times interesting and complex and at times two dimensional and shallow. Gardner really does a great job of keeping the plot moving though. And sometimes the imagery is vivid with scant few words. This is exactly what you expect it to be, a hard boiled detective novel. I really liked it and aside from the Lindt Dark Chocolate Bunny, was definitely my favorite thing in my Easter Basket.

  • Ralph Blackburn
    2019-05-16 07:06

    Top of the Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner- Writing as A. A. Fair, Erle Stanley Gardner, famous for his Perry Mason mysteries, crafted a detective noir series that became almost a blueprint for private eye fiction. Beginning in 1939 and spanning thirty volumes all the way to 1970, the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool mysteries were always quick reads that entertained and introduced the reader to the dark underbelly of society where everything is a scam and everyone a suspect. Top of the Heap, the thirteenth book in the series, was first published in 1952 by Morrow, then later revisited by Hardcase Crime in 2004. A young man seeks out Lam & Cool to help find someone, and as it turns out he was just looking for a way legitimize an phony alibi, but Donald goes into action to clear the agency and things get mysterious. As Donald Lam races around San Francisco, wanted by the law, knee deep in beautiful women, and threatened at every turn, we're along for a wild ride. Gardner tells it all in first person from Lam's perspective the way a decent private eye noir should be told. There are many twists and turns and, as usual, we're the last to find out what Donald already has figured. I read a lot of these some forty-fifty years ago and it's nice to get reacquainted. I want more!

  • Josh
    2019-05-19 07:56

    Like the other Cool and Lam pulps by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair, Top of the Heap starts with a simple and shady case, easily solved and paid for only to morph into a complex conspiracy. This time round, The Cool and Lam detective agency is hired by John Carver Billings to confirm an alibi placing him at a motel with two women from out of town at time of an attempted murder of a prominent mob boss. Lam promptly confirms the alibi only to get suspicious about how easily Billings's story fell into place. Taking matters into his own hands, Lam soon discovers the women were paid off and the simple case was a ruse leading him down a complex underworld rabbit warren. One thing this series has going for it, is that each installment (those I've read anyway) reads perfectly well as a standalone. Top of the Heap is book #13 and requires the reader to have no prior knowledge of the earlier cases. Though, readers of the series will note, by this point, Lam is taking lead and the charismatic Bertha Cool is on the peripheral - a far cry from the other Cool and Lam book published by Hard Case Crime in The Knife Slipped. Starting simple and evolving into a broader mystery is fine, if done right. Unfortunately each of the 3 Cool and Lam books I've read have lost me midway through as the case spans different directions connected together by paper thin threads. Top of the Heap is perhaps the prime example; there's an attempted hit on a mob boss, the murder of a mob moll, a murder of a mining mogul, stock market manipulation, paid alibis, and potential banker fraud, oh a plot to take over a prominent gambling establishment - all in around 200 pages. It's hard to keep up. Top of the Heap will appeal to fans of Cool and Lam but readers wanting a traditional pulp will be let down, dime store dialogue aside. 2/5 stars.

  • Masha
    2019-04-21 04:55

    A book in the B. Cool and D. Lam noir detective series by the author that created the Perry Mason books. This one is set in San Francisco and LA so it has perhaps particular appeal to the resident of either of those cities, especially the former - it's got addresses and intersections to entertain the mind's eye of the local.The scion of a wealthy family is caught up in a dark knot which is much more snarled than the girl trouble it seems to be initially. Detective Donald Lam certainly is Cool and that's what I look for in a noir. That and good-looking girls, which this novel offers up; though not of the femme fatale variety. I admit the gambling and mining terminology necessitated by the plot lost me a little, but not enough that I wouldn't read this one again with alacrity. I'd quote the ending here, but it would count as a spoiler. This is definitely one of the better books of this genre (that isn't on the Chandler, Hammett or Cain plane).

  • Evelyn
    2019-04-29 08:48

    This mystery by Earle Stanley Gardner, best known for Perry Mason, features the detective duo of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, two very disparate characters. Lam is known for brains, and while Cool is brash and calculating especially when it comes to money. One is thin and the other is pleasingly plump. Cool is the senior partner and accepts cases for financial gain, while Lam plays a critical role in solving them without resort to the use of weapons. This one involves the Mafia, financial chicanery, gold mines, gambling, vice, murder and mayhem, and is a joy to read. The only surprise is that given these wonderful characters which offer juicy roles for some modern day actors, and delightful plots, this series has not been translated to the big screen as a series of murder mystery comedies.

  • Gregory
    2019-04-29 03:49

    Gardner had a nice ear for dialogue and his Donald Lam character is a pretty smart guy (kind of your brainy-detective type). The story wasn't earth shattering but the reveal had more details than about 3 crime novels combined. I'm not sure I care for the whole "Cool and Lam" agency aspect as Bertha Cool comes off as nothing more than the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. Oh, I shouldn't fail to acknowledge Detective Sheldon of the SF PD as Gardner gave that character some good dialogue. Gardner doesn't throw blood and bullets everywhere in this novel so if you enjoy a sort of modern noir Sherlock Holmes (without a Watson and not in London), then you'd probably like this novel.

  • Thomas
    2019-04-26 02:50

    My first read with these characters. I love these old school Hard Crime ppbs!

  • Mike
    2019-05-20 02:59

    "Top of the Heap," by Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A. A. Fair) is the second of the "Cool and Lam" series of detective novels I have read--thanks to the folks at Hard Case Crime for reviving the series. I did enjoy "Top of the Heap" (from 1952, with love) quite a bit, but it differed greatly from the first novel I read--the "lost" Cool & Lam novel, "The Knife Slipped"--in that it was almost entirely a Donald Lam mystery and Bertha Cool barely appeared."Top of the Heap" is a hard-boiled detective novel firing on all cylinders. Books like this set a standard that many others tried to achieve and/or satirize in later years.A simple case of finding an alibi for a rich banker's son unravels a whole conspiracy involving mining and women and gangsters and gambling. The author isn't afraid to weave a complex web of interlocking criminality here. The one problem I had was with a cognitive leap that the protagonist detective made that connected two of the victims. Now I do take into account that I do most of my reading on the bus or the train, so I pick up and put down books, but I found no crumbs given to the reader to support this assertion. But once he connected those two characters, the conspiracy was cracked open and the killer's identity was pretty obvious. Other than that, though, "Top of the Heap" is a fine noir detective novel. If you're a fan of the "classic" detective genre or of Gardner's work (he also created the "Perry Mason" character), this is a book you will want to read.

  • Craig Childs
    2019-04-20 07:07

    A client walks into the office of Cool & Lam Investigations with a wild tale: He picked up a beautiful young redhead at a bar last Tuesday, but she slipped away from him at a second club a few hours later. He ended up going to a hotel with two other women that night. Now, the redhead has turned out to be the missing girlfriend of a notorious gangster. The client wants Lam to locate the two other women in order to establish his alibi.Donald Lam manages to find the girls and complete the assignment in only a couple of days, but the details don’t add up. Something is amiss. He keeps digging and uncovers an illegal gambling operation, a money laundering scheme, and a multiple-murder mystery.Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, seems to have an affection for the Cool & Lam novels—he has republished three of them—but I cannot see the appeal myself. This book has little in the way of engaging characters. The plot is utterly convoluted, implausible with only the thinnest veneer of sophistication. Almost every scene is the same—Lam confronts a suspect with vague suspicions and threats, and they immediately spill everything they know.I suspect any allure of these books is due to the hard boiled atmosphere and the 1940’s/50’s setting, a time before DNA evidence when hotel clerks would not rent a room to an unmarried couple but a pharmacist would give out patients’ names and home addresses.I suppose in the right frame of mind, I may have been able to appreciate this book solely for its nostalgic properties, but I was hoping for something more.

  • Lawgotham
    2019-05-08 07:02

    This was written by Earle Stanley Gardner under a pseudonym.. a quick read and a typical hard boiled private detective story with enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. I'd save this for summer beach reading.

  • Monte Lamb
    2019-04-21 10:09

    This is a fun book to read. It is a stereotypical detective novel with all the characters you would expect to find. The detective is hard-nosed but gets the job done and solves a very complex crime pretty quickly. It's an easy read and it will get you involved.

  • Edward Smith
    2019-04-20 05:48

    Really loved this book. I can see why Hard Case Crime reissued this as one of their first books.Lots of plot twist and turns that only the protagonist has the vision to see with lots of side deals going on throughout the story. This would never pass the transparency test of the times we live in today.I used to devour these types of books when I was a young teen. Not sure how I missed the Cool and Lam series. It's great to catch up though.

  • Bev
    2019-04-20 10:01

    A member of San Francisco's upper class comes to the offices of the Cool & Lam Private Detective Agency. John Carver Billings II hands them a retainer and a bonus of five hundred dollars if they can track down a couple of women who can provide him with a nice alibi. It seems he walked out of a restaurant with a redhead who belonged to a local gangster and the redhead walked out on him. So, he decided to find another date and wound up with a pair--one blonde and one brunette. His problem? The redhead didn't just walk out on him. She has disappeared entirely and he doesn't want to be blamed for her vanishing act. The lovelies that he spent the night with could prove that he was otherwise occupied...if they could be found.Bertha Cool, head of the agency, is eager to let Donald Lam earn the money. But Donald smells something fishy. When earning the bonus proves to be just a little too easy (Donald knows he's good...but not that good), he knows he was right. And when he decides to dig deeper to find out just why Billings wanted Cool & Lam to "discover" an alibi that has obviously been pre-arranged, he finds himself on the wrong side of law, on the wrong side of the powerful Billings family, and on the wrong side of Bertha Cool. One murder, one hit-and-run accident, one run-in with the mob, and one gold mine later, Lam has put the pieces together and is able to present Bertha with a bonus that even she could never have dreamed of....Top of the Heap is the thirteenth entry in the series by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner, better known for his Perry Mason books). In many ways it follows what seems to be the typical Cool and Lam pattern--Bertha wants money and lots of it; client offers said money; Donald gets to do all the work; Bertha waits to scoop up the cash and share it out. I don't think these are books that I would want to read too close together. The one bonus here is that Donald really gets to show Bertha what he can do. When she decides that he has screwed up the case and cost them their retainer, he sets off on his own to get to the bottom of things and does so in style. It's absolutely worth it to see him stroll into the office (through a door where Bertha has scraped his name off the glass) and present her with the bountiful fruits of his labor. It's amazing how fast her fire-breathing changes to honey-toned appreciation. Enough dollar signs will do that, I guess.Overall, a decent read in the pulpy private eye world. I particularly like Donald--he's quick on feet, quick-witted, and quick with a snappy come-back. First posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.

  • Neil McCrea
    2019-05-09 09:54

    My mother was and is a huge Perry Mason fan. After having watched every episode of the old tv show with her as a kid and reading a couple of the novels when on vacation with the folks, I had a hard time wrapping my head around Erle Stanley Gardner writing hard boiled detective fiction rather than his staid lawyer who-done-its. I needn't have worried, Top of the Heap is a rip snorting, slang talkin' crime yarn in the overly complicated Chandler vein.The plot is twisty, turny, breathless fun. It becomes more ridiculous the more you think about it, but the novel never lets up enough for that to be too much of an issue. Donald Lam is a solid protagonist. He's definitely in a Philip Marlow vein, but without the angst. He has sharp but not infallible investigative skills, he's enough of a tough guy to not fold easy, but he's no bad ass either. He's a complete smartass, and that almost becomes tiresome, but not quite.The big surprise for me here, is that Gardner can actually write women. There is still a fair amount of '50's gender expectations, but the women in Top of the Heap have a lot more going on than their counterparts in other pulps of the era. Lam's boss, Bertha, is essentially a single note of glad handing avarice, but the character type is so novel for the era that I'm willing to let that bit of flimsy characterization pass. On the other end, Lam's secretary Elsie, is fantastic. She does a lot of the unglamorous investigative work, and is arguably more competent than Donald . . . and he knows it, respects it, and makes sure she is compensated for it. My mother always said that Della Street from the Perry Mason novels was one of her favorite characters from a crime novel, I may now have an inkling as to why that is. This book certainly isn't going to challenge anyone, but it is a solid bit of genre fun.

  • Arvinder S.
    2019-04-25 03:55

    +The first chapter starts off really abruptly and nicely. The lack of description was nicely balanced out with dialogue that did a great job of getting to what each character was like. I found that I believed in all the traits I picked up on much more than I would have if they were merely described to me. +Had really good twists and some nice character moments in a novel that’s mostly story-driven. Really liked Millie and Lam’s interactions as well as Lam and Elsie’s dynamic-The sharp dialogue was really hampered by the fact that most of one character’s lines were either started off with or ended with I or she/he said. This slowed down the dialogue quite a bit, especially towards the end when everything was picking up. -The whole stock explanation was confusingly worded. I understood it but I couldn’t help but think that there was a better way of explaining it all.-The whole “George had something on Billings Junior” angle felt rushed in that it was never hinted at before the chapter it was mentioned in. Maybe I just didn’t pick up on it but when I read it I thought, “well, that was obviously just thrown in.”

  • Chazzi
    2019-04-24 09:59

    Donald Lam...the real working half of Cool & Lam Detective Agency.When Bertha Cool takes on a well heeled client in need of establishing an alibi, she sees dollar signs. For Donald Lam it is just another job, until he finds out the the client's story doesn't make sense. The beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, a mining scam, an illegal casino, a double do these all tie together and relate to the client?Starting in L.A. and winding up in San Franciso, Lam is on the move as he finds one thing leads to another. There are a lot of twists and turns in this and you need to pay attention.Erle Stanley Gardner writes under the pen name A.A. Fair for this 29 book series written between 1939 to 1970. Bertha Cool runs the agency with an iron is the one thing that can soften her up. Donald Lam is the guy who really gets things done, in the style of noir of the 1930s. All the books have this feel and seem to take place in this time.For me, it was a Goodread.

  • Nathan
    2019-05-10 07:06

    A private dick is set on a case that seems too easy. He does a little digging, finds that it is, and decides to make his life a little more complicated.This one is strictly in the Chandler tradition, without the great use of language that the master displays. Gardner weaves a good plot, but the dick is perhaps just a tad too clever and does perhaps a little too well following the clues that are laid out like breadcrumbs for him to trace.There is also a strong undercurrent of something going on with Gardner and women. While there are a lot of women in this book, they are either beautiful gold-diggers with questionable pasts who swoon at the first sight of the dick, or else larger, older women with ball-busting attitudes who could care less about him.All in all, a pleasant enough read for a plane trip.Rated PG for some moderate themes. 3/5

  • John
    2019-05-01 02:01

    Considering how prolific Erle Stanley Gardner was, it's amazing how much quality he was able to inject into his work. Surely he deserves to be better-remembered; if life were fair, he'd have a reputation similar to that of Agatha Christie.TOP OF THE HEAP is a top-notch novel from start to finish. It's sarcastic and funny in the grand detective noir tradition, it's paced like a runaway train, and it presents a mystery that's more complicated and well thought-out than what you'd typically expect from a pulp novel. There are a couple aspects of the plot that should have been explained in greater detail, but I'd rather an author overestimate my intelligence than underestimate it. I loved the interaction between the characters of Cool and Lam, and watching Cool have to eat crow in the last chapter was quite possibly the highlight of my week.

  • Mark
    2019-04-22 06:16

    I love pulp fiction and this Hard Case Crime line of pulps from well-known writers is top notch.That said, this one was pulled from the bottom of Erle Stanley Gardner's trunk of rejects. The plot was as dubious as airport sushi while the characterizations were thin and rigid.Now, I have to say, it was interesting to experience a writing style that was so steeped in 1950s gender identity that it bordered on misogyny. There's also the entire culture of treating premarital sex as a unspoken taboo and the greatest moral depth to which a single woman can fall. That part of the story was kind of fun. But still, I can get that from the White House and this book isn't really worth the trip.

  • LJ
    2019-05-07 06:52

    TOP OF THE HEAP (PI-California-1950s) – G-Erle Stanley Gardner - 13th of seriesHard Case Crime, 2004 (Reprint from 1952), PaperbackPrivate Investigator Donald Lam is asked to verify the alibi of wealthy John Carver Billings II. When it soon becomes clear the alibi is false, Donald decides to find out what crime is Billings is trying to cover. *** I kept trying to view it in context of the period. It does takes one back to a time before computers and cell phones when detectives worked occasionally on bribes and intimidation, but also on instinct and legwork. However, many of the conclusions reached by Lam are a bit hard to believe, and most of the characters are over the top. However, it is a detective story in the classic sense, and a black-and-white movie fun read.

  • Ladiibbug
    2019-04-23 06:03

    * Hard Case Crime *Erle Stanley Gardner, "Perry Mason" author, writing as A.A. Fair - Originally published 1952A good complex mystery. I had to pick this up on the sale rack at K-Mart. Growing up we watched Perry Mason, Della Street, Paul Drake, Lt. Tragg, Hamilton Burger (the D.A.) five nights a week on TV -- the old b&w version. They were like part of my extended family :-)So when I saw Erle Stanley Gardner's name, I had to read this.From the 1950's Hollywood nightclubs, to a seedy San Francisco motel room, to a pretty manicurist's booth in a barbershop, to the luxury yacht club by the Bay ... lots of twists and turns.

  • Tim Schneider
    2019-04-19 04:51

    Good entry into the Cool & Lam series and one that thankfully Hard Case Crime made available. The rest of the books are a tad difficult to find. This one has the highly convoluted plot that is a staple of the series. And it exercises Gardener/Fair's knowledge of the law (he was an attorney). Bertha Cool is way in the background on this one and, frankly, that doesn't hurt much because Donald Lam is by far the more interesting character. Fair does a nice job of adding in San Francisco police detective Sheldon and he's great addition with some snappy dialogue. Good read, well worth the short time it should take to get through it.