The Bigger They Come by A.A. Fair

The Bigger They Come is the 1st book in the Cool/Lam series and was first published in 1939. 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. Immediately 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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The Bigger They Come by A A Fair Paperback 1943 Wartime Edition
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Review of The Bigger They Come by A.A. Fair

Erle Stanley Gardner, writing under the pseudonym A.A. Fair, produced a rather unusual, but highly entertaining private investigator series known as The Unlikely Duo series. THE BIGGER THEY COME is the first book in the series featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Meet Donald Lam, he's a private detective or at least, he is by the end of the book. A more unlikely looking P.I. you'll never meet, as he is constantly reminded. At 5 and a half feet tall and 127 pounds, he's simply not intimidating at all. But what he lacks in brawn he more than makes up for in brains, a fact that is not lost on his new employer, Bertha Cool of the B.L. Cool Agency, was sharp enough to spot.

Now, Bertha Cool is also not the most likely head figure of a detective agency, although physically impressive she most certainly is. She's sixty-something with grey hair, sparkling eyes and a grandmotherly expression. She weighs in at over 300 pounds and is described as having the majesty of a snow capped mountain and the assurance of a steamroller.

When Lam gets the job he is put to work immediately because if there's one thing Bertha Cool believes in it's getting her money's worth. His first job is to serve divorce papers on Morgan Birks, husband of Sandra Birks who claims he has been abusing her. It seems a straightforward enough job, and it is. But it's only after the papers have been served that the real fireworks begin. It's in the moments of confusion that quickly follow a seemingly successful job that Lam's genius is uncovered as he works his way through deduction after deduction and then comes up with a brilliant solution that is as impressive in it's cunning as it is in it's simplicity.

One of the more refreshing aspects of The Bigger They Come as a private detective story, and it is repeated throughout the entire series, is the fact that the case is largely solved through a sharp mind that figures out various points of difference. Although there are moments of violence at various times in the story, this is not the dominant method by which Lam works. It sets the book apart from many other hardboiled detective stories from around the same time.

The bluff and bluster of Bertha Cool is quickly established, as is her tightfisted attitude to money. She has little patience for just about any situation but particularly the ones where she has the feeling that she is unable to keep up with the events as they unfold. Not a great attribute for a private detective but certainly a good one for a cranky old lady. She thinks she is keeping Donald in check, a situation that Lam is quite happy to have her believe.

It's hard to imagine that the unlikely pairing of Cool and Lam would be successful but that is exactly what they are and they are quite happy to put each other in their respective place.

As the first book of a series of 29, it provides a terrific start combining an interesting duo with a clever mystery. With the promise of many more such stories to follow, it's bound to leave you begging for more.


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