This time, let's discuss mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner's Cool and Lam series of novels.
I've read the first three, pictured above (click the images to see the gallery), "The Bigger They Come", "The Knife Slipped" and "Turn on the Heat". I don't think I'll read any more - not for a while at least.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the novels very much, individually. However, they all fit a formula that Gardner was clearly very comfortable just plugging pieces into and, while it certainly works, it's already gotten a little old after just three books. I like the characters, the prose is fine and the mysteries perfectly serviceable, but the pattern makes it too easy to see where the plot is going and to pick out how characters fit into the mix as they're introduced. Gardner clearly had a penchant for certain archetypes and liked to use them in very specific ways.
I also don't particularly like how--like a TV sitcom--the two main characters' world apparently resets at the end of every novel.
For example (spoilers, but it's an 80-year-old novel, so cut me some slack), at the end of the very first novel, Donald Lam can never return to California after exploiting a legal loophole that allows one to commit any crime with impunity, so long as he doesn't voluntarily enter the state again (because he can't be extradited back to California legally, so he can only be arrested if he returns of his own volition). In the second novel, he's back in Los Angeles without a mention of that event or, apparently, any consequences thereof.
Also in the second novel, the detective agency's beater car is replaced with a brand-new one, but then at the beginning of the third, Lam is back to driving the original jalopy. However, in order to try and impress a client with how intelligent Lam is, Bertha Cool relates the story of how he got away with a capital crime by exploiting a legal loophole the state senate was now frantically trying to legislate a fix for. So the "reset" isn't even consistent. Granted, "The Knife Slipped" wasn't published until many years after the rest of the novels were, due to William & Morrow initially rejecting it and Gardner refusing to revise it (instead, he simply moved on and wrote "Turn the Heat On", which ended up becoming the second Cool & Lam novel published), but Gardner clearly wrote the three books as sequential pieces, at least in his own mind. This is evidenced by Lam's evolution from disbarred lawyer with no detective experience in the first novel, making many mistakes but trying his best to muddle along, to the way he acts in the second--more sure of himself as an investigator, but still making plenty of mistakes--to the Lam of the third book, who is a smooth operator and a crack investigator. The character's evolutionary missing link, the second chronological novel, is an important piece "lost" for many years.
At any rate, as I said, I like the novels, but I think it's a case of them being best enjoyed occasionally rather than binging.
Recommended, but only one or two at a time.