A. A. FAIR – You Can Die Laughing. Donald Lam & Bertha Cool #16. William Morrow, hardcover, 1957. Pocket, paperback; April 1961; reprinted several times.

   I was attracted to read this in part by the cover, which puzzled me. The book was first published in 1957, but the cover of this the 5th Pocket reprinting makes it appear that it takes place in the 1920s. It’s eye catching, all right, but otherwise I have no idea why they thought it was appropriate to use.

   It is also labeled as #2, but that has to do with Pocket’s particular publishing sequence for the series at the time. It had nothing to do with the actual chronological order. (And as an aside in that regard, other than maybe the first two or three, in which the characters of PI’s Donald Lam and Bertha Cool were first fleshed out, the books can be read in any order in which you happen to pick them up.)

   Unfortunately I have little to say that’s positive about the book itself. A would-be client backs out of the case he hires the Cool & Lam agency for, and Donald Lam takes enough offense to continue working on it. He doesn’t tell Bertha, since it’s on the partnership’s dime, not his own, and she is notoriously tight with even pennies.

   There is a lot of rigmarole on Gardner’s part about an isolated property in the middle of nowhere and who it belongs to after the original owner dies. Of some curiosity is a nosy neighbor’s concern that the wife of a couple living next door to her has been murdered, only to have her show up alive and well after Donald brings the police into it, but …

   … that’s it. There’s a lot of busy work on Gardner’s work to make the tale interesting, but the twist or two in it that I was expecting never materialized. You don’t read Gardner for his fleshed-out characters, for there seldom are any. You read Gardner for his intricate, complicated plots. I was disappointed with this one.