A year after premiering Gardner’s long-unpublished second case—under the pseudonym A.A. Fair (The Knife Slipped, 2016)—for private investigator Bertha Cool and her operative, Donald Lam, Hard Case reprints the second case for the team that actually made it into print back in 1940—and it’s a doozy.
Over 20 years ago, Dr. James C. Lintig and his wife, Amelia Rosa Lintig, disappeared from Oakview, California, in the middle of a heated divorce suit in which each accused the other of infidelity. Now a client demurely identifying himself as Mr. Smith wants Cool and Lam to track down the missing woman, though he’s less interested in her presumably still-estranged husband. Arriving in Oakview, Donald quickly develops several promising leads, but some of them lead to the wrong places. His queries attract the attention of a menacing stranger who knocks him out and kidnaps him from his hotel, and for every new item he digs up about Amelia Lintig, he uncovers an unwelcome new tidbit about the client himself, who shows every sign of a self-destructive streak a mile wide—a trait echoed this time by Donald’s boss, whose inability to trust her canny op backfires, leading the duo into a murky area between a town full of crooked politicians and a murder rap. A more detailed summary would give away too much about a tale that depends on a wonderfully pulpy milieu, a breathless pace, and a nested series of surprises so rapid that you hardly have time to get used to each one before Gardner springs the next. By the end, however, you’ll sympathize with Bertha’s complaint that “I’ve ceased to be a detective and become an accomplice” and agree with Donald that “a lot of heat has been turned on.”
The only disappointment is that the appropriately lurid cover illustration doesn’t come close to representing any of the many felonies that actually go down. If they’re looking to please fans, Hard Case could do worse than continue the series till they’ve reprinted every one of the firm’s 29 adventures.