ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Cold Clews.” Lester Leith #22. Published in Detective Fiction Weekly, January 24, 1931. At one time apparently scheduled to be reprinted (??) in Hot Cash and Cold Clews: The Exploits of Lester Leith by Erle Stanley Gardner, edited by Jeffrey Marks, Crippen & Landru, Fall 2016.

   Lester Leith was but one of many characters that Erle Stanley Gardner created for the pulp magazines well before he came up with a certain Perry Mason (in 1933) and become rich in doing so. To my mind, though, the Leith stories were a lot more fun — and dare I say — even more inventive than the cases that Perry, Della and Paul found themselves involved in.

   Gardner wrote over 60 Leith stories between 1929 and 1943, mostly for Detective Fiction Weekly, and I can well imagine most were featured on the front covers, the character was that popular. I don’t know if Leith ever had a real occupation, but he was rich and lived in style, complete with a valet he chooses to call Scuttle, a stalwart chap who is really working uncover in Leith’s household on behalf of the police department, and Sgt. Ackley in particular.

   Ackley, you see, suspects — but is never able to prove — that Leith has a way of horning in on local crimes and taking a cut of the loot or insurance/reward money before the cops can even start to make sense of the case.

   And, case in point. In “Cold Clews” Leith takes interest in a valuable stolen necklace, stolen at gunpoint from a jewelry store in broad daylight. Although nearly nabbed while filling up his getaway car at a gasoline station, the thief seems to have eluded the police completely.

   The police are baffled. Lester Leith is not. To his own mysterious ends, he asks Scuttle to obtain the following for him: a fierce bulldog, a cast iron stove, twenty-eight dice, a yard of silk cord, a small vise, a portable drill, and a small emery wheel.

   The police are even more baffled, and equally most of the fun for the reader is reading along to find out what on earth Leith is going to do with this hodgepodge of items. Which he does is fine fashion — and of course he comes out on top once again.

   You probably can’t read too many Leith stories in one sitting. They’re quite long, for one thing, novelette length at least, and rather repetitious in nature as well. But spread out over a period of time, great stuff indeed.