Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Detectives Donald Lam and Bertha Cool Take on a Case of Insurance Fraud

The second-to-the-last novel in A. A. Fair's (Erle Stanley Gardner's) Donald Lam and Bertha Cool series is not among the best. By the time this book appeared early in 1967, Gardner was approaching the end of a long and very productive career, and it would appear that he had run out of fresh ideas.

Anyone who has read several of these novels will know the basic formula: a potential client will appear at the offices of Cool and Lam, looking perfectly respectable and allegedly representing some big business. Bertha will take the client at face value and insist that this is finally the firm's opportunity to take on respectable, prosperous clients who can provide healthy fees without all the risks of the usual cases that the firm takes. Donald, as always, will be on guard and will generally see through the story told by the new client.

In this case, a man appears with a crisp, embossed business card, claiming to be a vice president of a major insurance agency. He shows Bertha and Donald a newspaper classified ad in which someone is looking for a witness to an automobile accident. The client says he fears that the ad is really an effort to suborn perjury in the case and then "accidentally" lets it slip that he's actually representing a consortium of insurance companies who are having problems in this regard.

Naturally, that sets Bertha's heart a flutter, and she and Donald take the case. Donald determines almost immediately, of course, that the new client is not on the up and up and that serious mischief is afoot. And naturally, of course, he and by extension the firm, will very quickly be up to their necks in trouble again. As always, Donald will have to act quickly and intelligently to save the firm's bacon, if it's not already too late.

This is not a bad book, but people who have read a lot of the entries in this series will realize that they have seen all this before and that it's probably not a bad thing that the series has almost run its course.

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