Most of us have our low-class, guilty pleasures. My friend Bob is a fan of pro wrestling (or used to be), for no reason that I could ever fathom. Me, I have a large collection of paperbacks by Erle Stanley Gardner.
I’ve written about Gardner a couple of times before in this blog. He was a terrible writer, but very consistent and hugely successful. Now that I’ve seen all of the Law & Order reruns that I can stomach, I’ve started re-reading Gardner’s Perry Mason and Donald Lam mysteries.
Having nothing better to do this afternoon, I whipped up a database of titles, and discovered that I’m still missing quite a few. They’re all out of print, of course, although a few are still available as Kindle downloads. But sellers of used books list their wares on Amazon, so with a little luck, in a week or so I’ll have more than a dozen “new” ones, some of which I expect I’ve never read.
There were better writers of mysteries in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Rex Stout was better. Agatha Christie was better. In the earlier period, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were better. Later on, Ross MacDonald was better, as was John D. MacDonald. But none of them ever sold as many books as Gardner. He was prolific and reliable — the Doritos of mystery paperbacks.
I’m not quite sure why I find his cheesy stories enjoyable, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter. Some people like Vivaldi; some like Jeopardy; some like Doritos.