ERLE STANLEY GARDNER writing as A. A. FAIR – Crows Canít Count.

William Morrow, hardcover, 1946. Paperback reprints include: Dell 472, mapback edition, 1950; Dell D373, McGinnis cover art, September 1960; Dell 1625, September 1972 (all shown).

A. A. FAIR Crows Can't Count

   Not one of the better books in the series of cases solved by the well-known amusing pair of private eye detective partners, Donald Lam and Bertha Cool, I wish I didnít have to say. Bertha Cool is the humorous one, although she doesnít intend to be, but in terms of figuring out who a killer is, sheís shrewd enough when it comes to money, but otherwise sheís not the brighter one of the pair.

   No, thatís Donald Lam, who tells all of the stories, but he tells them so close to the vest that if a reader ever tried to figure out what heís thinking and why, it would be like climbing a wet noodle fastened to a sky hook on the other end Ė the imaginary kind — and greased all the way up with the finest grade of cooking oil.

   This one has something to do with emeralds, and a trust fund with two trustees and two beneficiaries, one male and one female, the latter of whom is very good looking and calls one of the trustees Uncle Harry but kisses him as though he werenít a relative, which he isnít, I donít think. Donald Lam also gets in the way of the ladyís kisses too, so it isnít as if she were playing favorites.

A. A. FAIR Crows Can't Count

   There is also something to do with a crow, and as crows tend to do, this one is attracted to bright shiny objects. This particular one, as the title also suggests, is not very good at math. But crows do what they do, and what they do makes sense, even to non-crows.

   But I could not, while reading this book, figure out why the characters in it did such incomprehensible things, not including Donald Lam as one the characters, but since his reaction to such strange behavior was so minimal, I shrugged my shoulders (figuratively) and said that the author, Mr. Gardner, must have had a bad few weeks when he was working this one up.

   Turns out, ha-ha on me, that the incomprehensible behavior (as far as I was concerned) was what tipped Donald Lam as to (eventually) what kind of scheme was going on. Hereís where Lam not having a Watson comes in. Berthaís as much in the dark as to what was going on as I was, but at least I didnít stand there sputtering and saying ďFry me for an oyster.Ē

A. A. FAIR Crows Can't Count

   I think in detective stories there should be some discussion going on between the would-be solvers of the mystery, to consider this possibility and then that, bringing up red herrings and false trails to make the tale more complicated with an wide array of suspects, means, and motives — and puzzling over them. Lam talks to no one in this book, and by the time he headed off to Columbia, the South American country, Iíd given up on figuring out the case on my own as a lost cause.

   That Bertha also ends up in Columbia is where a lot of the humor I mentioned above comes in. Itís hot, she doesnít speak Spanish, and sheís been sold a bill of goods that would have been totally unnecessary if Lam had told what little he knew or guessed or had a hunch as to what was going on.

   The case is essentially solved when on page 188 a giovernment offical for the country of Columbia named Ramon Jurado snaps his fingers, which he follows up on page 196 when he sends Lam a telegram consisting of a name and address, to which Lam goes and proceeds to the apartment of one of the players in the story to tell her exactly what had happened and when. That it takes 10 pages of small print to tell her tells you something about how complicated this story was, and itís still not over Ė there is something like 15 more pages of explanation to go Ė but how on earth Lam did know all of this?

   Other than what I’ve said so far, I have no idea.