Pairs Well With: the blackest of black coffee, and a double Presbyterian (two shots of rye whiskey, and six fluid ounces of ginger ale). There’s no slowing down once the story starts, so get all refreshment over with before you open the book. (Drinking game idea: take a shot of whiskey every time Lam is punched in the face, or if you’re feeling particularly self-destructive, sip a beer each time Bertha Cool calls Lam “lover”. Trust me, you’ll hate me afterward.)
Author: A.A. Fair (pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner)
Rating: 3 Out Of 5 Whiskey Shots
Synopsis: Lam and Cool are back! This time, it seems they can’t stop digging their own graves deeper and deeper. When a shadowy client asks for help from Bertha Cool to track down a mysterious lady, she puts her brightest and most hardheaded detective on the case: Donald Lam. Using his experience as a lawyer and an unparalleled intuition, Lam is able to track down the woman, without much to-do.
Little did he know, finding the missing lady would open up an entire can of worms, and he would find himself and Bertha Cool in the middle of a violent political scheme, corrupt cops, dead bodies, and a DA baying for blood.
Lam’s one smart detective, but is this the case that finds him six feet under?
Overall Impression: There was a time when books were written in seemingly two separate categories. Those written to explain the world (1984 and Finnegan’s Wake and Absalom, Absalom of the world) and those to distract from the world (Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Harlequin romance novels). Granted, there are many books that are able to co-exist within those realms, but normally it isn’t difficult to see which one the story is truly rooted in.
Goddam this world can get you down, but for all the answers great tomes of literature can offer, sometimes a lighthearted, whimsical, silly escape is what helps a soul more than anything else. Turn on the Heat is definitely written as a distraction, and for me, it was sorely needed and perfectly timed.
Gardner isn’t an author I am familiar with, though I have heard of his creation Perry Mason (I’ve not seen the show, nor read the books either). And if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t have even picked up this book if it weren’t for the voluptuous hand-painted woman on the front cover. (I see a beautiful woman and I’m done for, what can I say?) But hot damn, I’m glad I let my ever-present sex drive lead the way into buying this title.
Turn on the Heat doesn’t coddle the reader and it doesn’t waste time with needless exposition or backstory. From page one, the reader follows Lam as he enters Dame Bertha Cool’s detective agency. And from there, the foot never lets off the gas. The plot is sharp, the clues are abundant, and the dialogue is so sweet it drips like honey.
While not the most cerebral story, Turn on the Heat was a fun romp through the California countryside and occupied my weekend, pleasantly.
The Cheers: The characters of Lam and Cool are fan-fucking-tastic. Gardner must have truly loved writing these two because every scene where they are together is absolutely gorgeous. And the dialogue! Holy damn! Modern fiction writers need to take note and read the Cool and Lam mysteries. This dialogue is snappy, sharp, witty, and every word is a double entendre. There are implications within implications and the two of them say just as much when they’re silent as they do when they can’t shut up.
I also love the dynamic between them. Bertha Cool is a 60-something widow, left to run the detective agency her husband left behind when he shuffled off this mortal coil. She’s big and sultry, she loves to drink, she loves to eat, and she loves to flirt. The only thing that she loves more than food would be money, and with Lam working for her, it’s never certain if the accounts are going to nosedive into the red.
Donald Lam, on the other hand, is a downtrodden, weary, highly intelligent guy with a potentially catastrophic love of women. The plus side is that they seem to love him too. Not lust him. Genuinely love him. It must be some sad puppy sort of thing or something. But whatever it is, he’s not afraid to use it to his advantage. Think of him as a reverse femme fatale. An homme fatal? I was never good with French. I’m sure Lam would be. Because the guy seems to know damned near everything, and when he doesn’t he knows where to go to find an answer.
This story is fun for the sake of fun, and I can honestly say I’m highly interested in finding the other Cool and Lam mysteries.
The Hangover: By the time the third act was rolling around, the implications of the intended crime felt thin. Certainly, there was the gravity of finding out who killed an innocent girl, but there really wasn’t much colour or transferred interest in the initial mystery of the story. It felt kind of dull, really. What kept me going was that Cool and Lam were actively working together towards the end, and their chemistry was phenomenal.
As far as mysteries go, this was a bit of a letdown, and the fact that the “villain” was just as unremarkable and forgettable was disappointing. As this is my first Cool and Lam mystery novel, I’m not sure if this is an outlier with regards to weak antagonists, but I certainly hope it is. Again, Lam and Cool’s chemistry is what really saved the last half of the book. I will say, though, that the “big reveal” and the takedown of the “villain” felt like a toss away. It was fleeting, executed strangely, and didn’t leave me satisfied. (The ending was very Stephen King-esque.)
Corking the Bottle: While by no means a literary masterpiece, Gardner’s Turn on the Heat is a fun, fast-paced time burner, full of over-the-top characters, razor-sharp dialogue, and chockful of that sultry allure of a good noir crime novel. This is definitely a good beach read.