Sunday Book Reviews – July 8, 2018

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

The Gravediggers by Phyllis Schlafly & Chester Ward (Pere Marquette Press, 1964)

There is little so discredited as a warning that goes unheeded, only to have the associated disaster fail to develop.  This is the case for The Gravediggers.

The book is fascinating on multiple levels.  It is only 118 pages long, and is end noted carefully (6 pages of end notes)  The book lays out the case, step by step, against “The Gravediggers”… in this case, appeasers of Khrushchev, who had sworn to bury us:

“These men are not Communists.  They are card-carrying liberals.  They will not commit the crime.  They will merely dig the grave.”

The entire purpose of the book, published in October 1964, is to make Americans too afraid to vote for Johnson.  The authors explain that the weakness that the Johnson/Kennedy administration had as a stated policy would likely lead to nuclear war, and would certainly lead to subordination of the United States, whether peacefully to the United Nations or militarily to a foreign power.  They document the exact statements proving that Johnson intended to fully disarm the U.S.

None of that came about, despite Johnson handily winning the Presidential election.

The book provides a case study in how to generate and use fear as a galvanizing emotion, however.  By allowing the reader to see such an effort with the distance of history the techniques can be examined.  With such examination, it becomes easier to recognize similar attempts in contemporary writings.

It also serves to remind or educate the reader of what some of the policies of the era were.  Over time, administrations and their actions lose definition; only the broadest of acts are recalled.  By making a case on a point-by-point basis, it provides examples of Johnson policy and adds depth to understanding of the politics of that era.

Lastly, the format serves to underscore why Schlafly was susceptible to Trump’s message early in his Presidential campaign.  She was not always the methodical, rational debater that was seen on the national stage in the 1970s and 1980s.  She had been a reactionary screed-writer in the 1960s.  Trump’s message would have appealed to the writers of this book.


Top of the Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner as A.A. Fair (William Morrow, 1952)

Erle Stanley Gardner will forever be associated with his most famous creation, Perry Mason.  He wrote dozens of novels about the master defense attorney, and the series was adapted for film, radio and television.

Then there was his other major series, Cool & Lam.  This was written under a pen name of A.A. Fair and followed the major cases of the Bertha Cool (later Cool & Lam) detective agency after the hiring of Donald Lam, a former up-and-coming star lawyer whose license to practice had been pulled.

The reason for the license being taken away was never fully explained, but the reasons were evident in the stories.  Lam is distinct from other detectives of the pulp era: he didn’t carry a gun, he was a small man, and on the occasions he entered into a violent confrontation he was almost always physically beaten.  He relied instead on his mind, and his capacity for getting ahead of developing problems using ingenuity and a knowledge of human nature.

Bertha Cool is a widow who is somewhat physically intimidating – again in defiance of story conventions at the time – and somewhat miserly.  She has worked to develop contacts in government, society and business over the years but is only a mediocre detective.  She’s not stupid, but she’s generally slower on the uptake than Lam.  With the exception of the novels where Lam is called away to fight in World War II, she is generally a strong supporting character, while Lam takes center stage.

The relationship – only a working relationship – develops over time, with Cool more likely to trust some of Lam’s maneuverings as the series progresses, and Lam more likely to trust that Bertha will be able to handle her own side of things.

The individual novels are excellent… and, as one would expect from older novels, they tend to be fairly short.

This is a good example of the series.  Written in 1952, it centers on the agency getting a missing-persons case.  The client seems to be lying about his motivations, but the money is good.  Lam hunts down the women in question, but as he does so he discovers that there are mafia connections to the case, and his efforts are further hampered by deaths of key figures in the case.

It features tensions between Lam & Cool, provides details of popular scams of the era such as false deeds and point shaving, and is thoroughly engaging.  It was also re-released in recent years by Hard Case Crime, making it one of the easiest titles in the series to find for those wishing to sample Gardner’s other big series.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.