An odd bird, Erie Stanley Gardner, a.k.a. A.A. Fair, and if mystery writercritic Hughes is too worshipful and haphazard to probe very deeply, she does cover enough provocative ground to establish that ""Uncle Erie"" was a most atypical man of letters. Using the correspondence and autobiographical notes of a writer who ""kept possibly the most extensive records of anyone of his time,"" Hughes sketches in some of the personal life--""black sheep"" California youth, maverick law career, a ""born bachelor"" semi-married for 56 years--but the growth and operation of Gardner's traveling ""Fiction Factory"" (via camper) is the ringing cash-register heart of the book. Anti-artiste Erie saw himself as a ""hardheaded businessman-lawyer who, due to circumstances he couldn't control, happened to write,"" a no-talent who started out with ""the worst stories that ever hit New York City"" and stolidly taught himself how to turn a literary profit: Black Mask stories, Cool & Lam mysteries, two Perry Masons a year--a writing rate of as much as 100,000 words a month dictated to an adoring rotating stable of live-in secretary-assistants. ""I'm going to be the greatest mystery writer in the world despite your distracting requests for new titles,"" Gardner wrote to his publisher, along with tart replies to editorial queries (""I don't know and the reader won't care"") and loving-angry harangues. Hughes writes without much style, and she probably overrates Gardner's work--likewise the importance of his contribution to criminal justice via his Court of Last Resort (which investigated cases of allegedly innocent men convicted of crimes). And few readers, though they'll appreciate the awesomely detailed bibliography, will need to know quite so much about Erie's Temecula Camp retreat or his hospitality. But--in his eagle-eye watch over the radio and TV Perry Masons, in his friendship with Raymond Chandler, and above all in his no-nonsense but humane dealings with the publishing world, Erie Stanley Gardner emerges as quite a voice and quite a guy.