Bats Fly At Dusk by A.A. Fair

Bats Fly At Night is the 7th book in the Cool/Lam series and was first published in 1942. The review provided below is accompanied by as many of the cover variations that I could find from the many reissues released through the years. Immediate below is an opportunity to buy a copy of the book through eBay. The listed book is the cheapest possible copy that is currently available.

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Review of Bats Fly At Dusk by A.A. Fair

The success of the Bertha Cool / Donald Lam partnership lies heavily in the razor sharp mind of Donald Lam who is able to cut straight to the heart of any mystery. Bertha’s part in the deal is to complain loudly about how much everything is costing her and to barge belligerently from room to room. As the comic relief she is worth her weight in gold and at her size, this is quite a lot of gold!

This entry in the Cool/Lam series is a little different in that the involvement from Donald Lam comes via the occasional wire because he has joined the Navy and is away serving his country. And what does Bertha think of the situation? Let me tell you in her words:

He enlisted. I had things fixed so he was deferred – took a war contract just to have something that would beat the draft. Worked things slick as a whistle; got him classified as an indispensable worker in an essential industry – and then the damn little runt goes and enlists in the Navy.

Although the investigation is ostensibly being run by Bertha Cool, and she hates to admit that she depends heavily on Lam’s sharp brain, her pleas for help become more frequent and Lam injects necessary suggestions that put her back on the right track.

Bats Fly At Dusk begins when a blind beggar named Rodney Kosling walks into the detective agency and hires Cool to track down a young woman who was recently involved in an automobile accident. It is a simple assignment and one that even Bertha Cool can handle, but there are complications that are exacerbated by Bertha’s desire to chisel out as much dough from the case she has found herself in.

The injured woman in question is Josephine Dell who was not hurt terribly badly but has been ordered to rest by a doctor. As far as the blind client is concerned, his case appears to be solved. Bertha’s greed senses further possibilities.

Getting a cut of a possible insurance payout becomes a motivating factor for Bertha to pursue the case further as she attempts to convince Dell that she may have been injured more seriously than first thought. A wrangle then ensues between Cool, the insurance company and a chiseling eye-witness who is attempting to sell what he saw to the highest bidder, playing both sides against the middle.

The running gag throughout the series lies in how tight with money Bertha is and it is never more evident than each time she tips a bellboy or a car service boy or some other service. Her insistence that a dime will cover just about any service before grudgingly adding a nickel to sweeten the deal never gets old.

“Fry me for an oyster!”

Those who have enjoyed other books in the series will be well aware that there is a delightful overemphasis on the most simple and ordinary movements. From the way Bertha moves about a room to the way the company secretary, Elsie Brand, gets her work done. This next example is typical of the way in which both women do their jobs:

Bertha strode across the office slamming the door viciously behind her, noting with satisfaction that the keyboard of Elsie Brand’s typewriter exploded into noise almost before the door was closed.

Elsie Brand is the ever reliable secretary who always seems to have something important to type up on the typewriter and does so with enthusiastic fervor. It seems she never merely returns to her typing, she more likely “clatters into action” or “makes like a jackhammer”. With Donald Lam out of the scene there is far more opportunity for Elsie to take a greater part in the unfolding of the action.

The bustling, barging pace with which Bertha Cool attacks everything ensures that Bats Fly At Dusk unfolds with brisk precision. The initial missing person gambit that opens the book is quickly replaced by fraud, deception and murder. This has Bertha charging along at full tilt in a manner that is as subtle as a rhino at full pelt. The results are pretty much as one would expect and that sets things up nicely for Lam to play his part.

It is the healthy dose of subtle humor, often at the expense of Bertha Cool, that makes this an enjoyable series. As the case becomes more involved and the intricacies grow it gets to be more of a challenge to try to unravel how the whole thing is being held together.

 Pub 1960  Pub 1963  Pub 1966

As can be seen above, there have been a number of reprints of Bats Fly At Dusk, some of which have gone with particularly lurid covers, while others are more literal on the bat theme.

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