Bertha Cool and Donald Lam
Created by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

One of the all-time great mismatched team-ups in detective fiction and -- at the time -- a real blast of fresh air. Grade A Extra Large widow and penny pincher BERTHA COOL, the head of the B. Cool Confidential Investigations, isn't overly concerned with ethics. "I'll handle any disbarred lawyer," she says, and that she will.

Truth be told, I've always had a soft spot for Mrs. Cool. Greedy, corrupt, dishonest, unpleasant and weighing slightly less than a Buick, she ran her own detective agency while most female sleuths of the time were puttering around in the rose garden, making tea for the vicar or waiting to be rescued. Politically correct? Who the hell cares?

Fortunately, she finds her match in DONALD LAM, who shows a delightful aptitude for bending, twisting, tweaking and otherwise subverting the law, while Bertha tends to just out and out break it. As she puts it, Donald is "a little runt, but he's brainy."

Together they are simply one of the best teams of P.I.s ever -- colourful characters, brain-spinning plots and some of Gardner's best writing. And if a successful TV series had been developed from it, Cool and Lam may have received the respect they deserved, instead of being a footnote in Gardner's career.

In fact, a TV pilot was aired in 1958 by CBS, starring Billy Pearson (who?) and Benay Venuta (who?) as Lam and Cool, directed by Jacques Tourneur, but it never developed into a series.

Erle Stanley Gardner was, of course, the creator of Perry Mason and one of the most popular American authors of all time, with over 100 million books sold.


  • "Among his many other virtues, Erle Stanley Gardner is surely the finest constructor of hyper-intricate puzzles in evidence..."
    -- Anthony Boucher,
    The New York Times Book Review
  • "One of the best in the series...You can only love a book where everyone gets exactly what they deserve in triplicate."
    -- Karen Ellington, The Mystery Read on
    Top of the Heap 


  • "Well, can me for a sardine!"
  • "Well, peel me for a grape."


  • The Bigger They Come (1939)...Buy this book
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  • Gold Comes in Bricks (1940)
  • Spill the Jackpot (1941)
  • Double or Quits (1941)
  • Owls Don't Blink (1942)
  • Bats Fly at Dusk (1942)
  • Cats Prowl at Night (1943)
  • Give 'em the Ax (1944)
  • Crows Can't Count (1946)
  • Fools Die on Friday (1947)
  • Bedrooms Have Windows (1949)
  • Top of the Heap (1952)...Buy this book
  • Some Women Won't Wait (1953)
  • Beware the Curves (1956)
  • You Can Die Laughing (1957)
  • Some Slips Don't Show (1957)
  • The Count of Nine (1958)
  • Pass the Gravy (1959)
  • Kept Women Can't Quit (1960)
  • Bachelors Get Lonely (1961)
  • Shills Can't Cash Chips (1961)
  • Try Anything Once (1962)
  • Fish or Cut Bait (1963)
  • Up for Grabs (1964)
  • Cut Thin to Win (1965)
  • Widows Wear Weeds (1966)
  • Traps Need Fresh Bait (1967)
  • All Grass Isn't Green (1970)


    (1958, CBS)
    Unsold pilot
    30 minute episode
    Black and white
    Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Teleplay by Edmund L. Hartmann
    Directed by Jacques Tourneur
    Starring Billy Pearson as DONALD LAM
    and Benay Venuta as BERTHA COOL
    Also starring Maurice Manson, Margaret Field, Judith Bess Jones, Sheila Bromley, Don Megowan, Movita, Allison Hayes, John Mitchum, Tristram Coffin, Alex Sharp

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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