First published in 1957, You Can Die Laughing falls roughly into the middle of the series featuring L.A. detectives Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. By now, the characters and the formula are basically set, and the reader knows exactly what to expect when picking up one of these novels.
Bertha Cool is the senior partner, having inherited the firm from her late husband. At one hundred and sixty-five pounds, she’s all “hard flesh, and … as unyielding as barbed wire.” She claims to be “just as rough, just as tough, just as hard-boiled, [and} just as two-fisted as any man in the country." Lam, on the other hand, barely weighs a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, and, as Bertha observes, he’s never won a fight in his life. But he’s a “brainy little bastard,” who, while on a case, often skates very close to, if not over, the edge of the law. He generally drives his partner to distraction, at least until the end of a case when he usually serves up the solution, and a generous payment for the firm’s efforts.
This case begins when a Texan named Lawton C. Corning asks the firm to locate a woman who seems to have disappeared. Earlier, Corning has suggested to Bertha that there may be oil leases involved somehow, and she has visions of a big payday. But once in the office with Donald, he claims that nothing like that is at stake and he simply wants to find this woman for reasons of his own.
Of course, no potential client has ever walked into the offices of Cool and Lam and told the truth, meaning that matters will prove to be much more complicated and dangerous than a simple missing persons case. Donald has no trouble finding the woman, and that’s when the fireworks really begin.
This plot is a little more straight-forward and a lot less convoluted than some of the books in this series, and it’s a relatively short and entertaining read. All in all, a good addition to the series.