Review of Shills Can’t Cash Chips by Erle Stanley Gardner

My favorite Erle Stanley Gardner series…

Erle Stanley Gardner is the super-famous author of more than 80 Perry Mason mysteries, which, in addition to being best-selling books in their own right, were also spun off into a long-running TV series and several movies.   Few people, however, are aware that he also wrote almost 30 titles in another series, using the pen name AA Fair, and featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam as partners in the Cool & Lam Detective Agency.    I remember reading several of the Cool & Lam books in paperback a few decades ago (!!!), and back then, I liked them even more than the Perry Mason books.  So I was happy to receive an advance review copy of the new e-book edition of Shills Can’t Cash Chips, and looked forward to seeing if I would still enjoy the series.   And I did!

Shills Can’t Cash Chips is about 3/4 of the way through the series, and the relationship between Donald and Bertha is already well-developed, as is their relationship with LAPD Sergeant Sellers.  One of the main reasons I liked this series more than the Perry Mason series was Donald’s snarky/quick wit, and that’s still on full display in this book, whether he’s hot-wiring his own car to get close to a potential witness (a gorgeous dame, of course), or wise-cracking that “…a fight means two people have alternate objectives and they resort to violence to protect their positions.”  Another reason I liked this series was Bertha’s over-the-top miserliness and pugnaciousness, also on full display here, as when Bertha says she’s going to make Sergeant Sellers pay half the taxi fare if he wants to ride along with Donald back from the airport.   

Under all the fun and familiar personalities, though, there’s also a nice noir-ish mystery going on.   Clearly something is “off” when the Cool & Lam Agency is asked to investigate an insurance claim, starting with why the insurance company isn’t investigating things itself.   But, in Bertha’s quest for “respectable work”, and also, of course, work that will pay well, she takes the case, and we’re off…

Like most of the Cool & Lam books, this is a quick read, but still packed with enough action, and enough twists and turns, to keep me guessing until nearly the end.   Unusually for me, I did pick up on one key plot wrinkle early on, but still couldn’t figure out what to do with it, so it didn’t matter in the end!     My only minor beef was that I did have to suspend just a bit of annoyance at the casual sexism of the early 1960s, but that was wasn’t too hard to do, and really there’s not a whole lot of point in trying to hold a nearly 50-year old book to modern standards.   

All-in-all, I liked this book a lot, and, having now been reminded of the Cool & Lam series, I’ll be keeping an eye out for more titles to become available in e-book.    Please keep in mind that I try to fight star-flation a little bit, so I keep a 5-star rating for maybe one in thirty or forty books that I read.   So my 4-star rating for Shills Can’t Cash Chips is a solid recommendation and means that I think it’s well worth reading.    And again, my thanks to Hard Case Crime/Edelweiss for the review copy.  

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