Sunday, June 24, 2018

Detective Donald Lam Gets Caught Up in the Aftermath of an Armored Car Robbery

The twenty-first Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mystery opens in the wake of a brazened armored car robbery that netted the two thieves a cool $100,000 in thousand-dollar bills. Lam's police force nemesis, Sergeant Frank Sellers, believes he is close to a solution of the mystery. He has recovered half of the loot and has a lead on a woman named Hazel Downer, who is associated with one of the men suspected of the robbery.

Sellers confronts Downer and searches her apartment. He doesn't find the other half of the missing money, but in her purse, he does find a napkin with the name and number of the Cool & Lam agency. Downer manages to give Sellers the slip and he now demands to know what Donald and Bertha have to do with the woman. They both insist that they've never heard of her, but of course Sellers doesn't believe them. Bertha insists that if anyone has had contact with the woman, it would be Donald, and naturally, the second he leaves Bertha and Sellers in Bertha's office, he goes into his own only to find Hazel Downer waiting for him.

Hazel wants to hire Donald to find a man named Stanley Downer who she says is her husband. She claims that Stanley has run off with $60,000 of her money, all in thousand-dollar bills. She says that an uncle left her the money, although she has no way of proving it. She offers Donald a percentage of the money if he can recover it. Of course, she insists that HER sixty thousand dollar bills have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the thousand-dollar bills still missing from the armored car robbery that Seller is so hot about.

Inevitably, a plot that's already this complicated by page 16 will get only moreso. The case takes Donald to San Francisco, where he will find himself in a world of trouble and danger, and it will take all of his skill and a great deal of luck if he's going to sort out this mess.

This book was published in 1960, twenty-one years after the first in the series, The Bigger They Come, and yet it might well have been published twenty-one months later. Like virtually all of the other books in this series, there are no specific dates and no references to any contemporary events. Twenty-one years after they first appeared, the characters have not aged a day. Bertha is still a hard sixty-five and Donald remains in his middle thirties. More than that, the books retain the feel of pulp fiction from the 1940s. An attractive woman still has shapely "gams;" cars haven't gotten any more dependable, and the police still operate like they did in the '30s and '40s. This is not really a complaint, merely an observation, and this book and the others in the series allow the reader to return to the age of the classic pulps, which, when done well, can still be a lot of fun.

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