Book Review-Owls Don’t Blink by A. A. Fair

Title: Owls Don’t Blink: A Donald Lam-Bertha Cool Mystery

Author: Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A. A. Fair

Format-Paperback, Dell Publishing

Published: 1961 (Originally 1942)


Most people know Erle Stanley Gardner for being the creator and author behind Perry Mason. Gardner was actually much more than that, including a rather daring lawyer himself. But even as an author, there’s more than fiction’s best known attorney to his credit. Writing as A. A. Fair, Gardner shared one of the most unique and best Private Detective duos ever with the world beginning in 1939. Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Some have referred to Cool and Lam as an interesting variation on the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin relationship, and although there are points of comparison, they’re not plentiful. Lam is the legs of the outfit, but not because Bertha can’t work or get involved, but usually more because Lam is the cooler head and better suited to the in depth detective work than his barrel shaped (at least in the beginning, she shed some pounds over time), hot tempered boss, later partner. But Bertha makes her own contributions in the field, often helping Lam when he needs it, but always attempting to make sure it goes the way she thinks it should, though it doesn’t always.

In OWLS DON’T BLINK, the firm of Cool and Lam are hired by an attorney from New York to find a woman in New Orleans who doesn’t want to be found. Not allowed to ask any questions about why she must be found, Donald makes short work of finding her…and shortly also finds a dead body in her apartment. The body belonged to a man that, just hours before his demise, Lam watched argue with the object of his search.

This begins a cross-country romp, both past and in the present of the book, stretching from New York to Los Angeles to Little Rock to New Orleans and a few other stops in between. It also ends up involving another murder, maybe a serial killer (though this book was written about thirty years before that was a term), a distraught husband, a missing wife, and Bertha desperate to keep Donald from being drafted.

This series is one of my all time favorites. Not every entry is top notch, but OWLS DON’T BLINK is Fair (Gardner) at the top of his game. Not only are Lam and Cool both completely engaging characters, but the cast sprinkled around them all have their own quirks and flaws, which make them stand out as well. The mystery is actually several woven together and done so tightly in a way that works perfectly. The pacing is perfect, not breakneck, but also not turtle slow. Lam has a confrontation or three that every good PI novel should have, but Fair does a great job of also showing the real work that goes into the job, the actual tracking down of leads, of questioning people, of wasting hours to get the few minutes that will solve a case. Add into that a twist at the end that fits the time period…and the lead characters….perfectly and OWLS DON’T BLINK is top notch.

Five out Five pages for this read. There’s nothing at all wrong with OWLS DON’T BLINK from beginning to end. It starts off well, runs the course, and wraps on a pitch perfect note.

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