ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Lost, Strayed and Stolen.” Lester Leith #44. Novelette. Detective Fiction Weekly, 24 February 1934. Never reprinted, though I’d welcome being corrected on this.

   It might be possible to characterize Lester Leith as a private eye, except for one small detail, or maybe two. He never had a PI license, and as far as I know, his only client was himself. What he realty is is difficult to describe. What he does is scour the newspapers for details on crimes that have been committed and tries to find a way to cut himself in on the proceeds.

   He is so successful at this that there is no “tries” about it. The police do not take his activities lightly. They think he is a crook himself, although they have never been able to prove it.

   To this end, however, they have inserted one of their men, a chap named Beaver, into Lester Leith’s household in the guise of his personal man servant. Leith calls him Scuttle, and of course Leith is fully aware that Scuttle is a easily fooled spy for the equally inept Sgt. Ackley of the police department.

   Which is where half the fun of reading the Leith stories comes in. He simply delights in teasing both Scuttle and Ackley along, giving them just enough information to get them going in one direction while off he goes in the other. The other half of the fun is watching Leith do exactly that, which in this case involves setting up a totally bogus Citizens’ Committee on Civics Efficiency, complete with stationery, buttons and badges, although Leith himself is the only member.

   Goal: to obtain a valuable diamond necklace that the husband of a well-known society woman claims was stolen from him. With the use of an exact but worthless replica and the hiring of a young woman living down the hall from him who is low on funds, Leith manages to get both the police and the couple whose necklace was stolen both totally confused and bamboozled, and badly, to the total delight of the reader.

   I thoroughly enjoyed this one, from beginning to end.