Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Crows Can't Count

cover image By: Fair, A.A. (pseudonym of Erle Stanley Gardner) (male)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (Dell 472)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 837: PS3513 .A6322 C37 1946
Contributor: J. Lukin

General

Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: A. A. Fair Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California and Colombia, South America Date of Publication: 1946  |  Original Date: 1946 Setting: urban; middle-class homes and offices, a Los Angeles slum, a Colombian mining town Motives: smuggling, murder

Plot Summary

The detective firm of Cool and Lam is approached by a man who wants to know why his ward, whom he supports generously, has sold a valuable piece of jewelry. Suspecting the ward's other guardian, Donald Lam pays him a visit, only to find him dead near the cage of his pet crow, a bird with a small vocabulary and a larcenous disposition. Fearing that his own life is in peril, the surviving guardian asks that Lam protect him. Lam doesn't trust the man; he declines the offer, trying instead to solve the crime by tracing the itinerary of the jewelry. Ultimately, he has to follow the path to its origins, an illegal emerald mine in Colombia, where he finds a mine supervisor who could unravel the crime. Unfortunately, the mine manager's enemies have easy access to dynamite, and they blow the man up into little bits before he can reveal much information. But with the help of the Colombian authorities (and probably some knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas), Lam is able, upon his return to L.A., both to solve the crime and to earn a hefty fee for his firm.


Major Characters

Donald Lam adult male, small in stature, former attorney, professional private investigator

Mrs. Bertha Cool adult female, fortyish, short and fat, irascible and greedy, professional private investigator

Sergeant Sam Buda adult male, L.A.P.D. police officer (possibly described in an earlier novel in the series because he isn't described in this one)

Captain Frank Sellers adult male, 40 years old, lonesome and weary, L.A.P.D. police officer

Rodolfo Maranilla adult male, Latin, small, wiry, acute and urbane, middle-aged, Colombian police chief

Ramon Jurado adult male, Latin, stolid, heavy-featured, doltish-looking, a clever and powerful official of the Colombian government

Harry Sharples adult male, late middle-age, small, snobbish, bushy-eyebrowed mine owner

Shirley Bruce adult female, gorgeous, raven-haired, seductress of twenty-two, living on inherited wealth

Dona Grafton adult female, slender, athletic brunette, 22 years old, an idealistic artist earning a living with commercial art

Robert Cameron adult male, approaching 60, prosperous and distinguished mine owner



Level of Violence

one character is knifed to death and another exploded. All violence occurs offstage.


Sexuality

no sex is described. One character is a manipulative seductress whom Lam succeeds in resisting.


Gender Roles

the middle-aged Mrs. Cool is a figure of fun. Two of the women depicted are criminals, but so are two of the men; wealth is more cause for suspicion than gender. No disapproval of working women appears.


Ethnicity

a couple of fiery Latin women are shown; otherwise, no differentiation is made between the characters of North and South Americans.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

some social drinking and smoking occurs.


Law Enforcement

both the Los Angeles and Colombian police are presented as competent and honest.


Subject Headings

Colombia/ California (Los Angeles)/ Murder/ Mines and Mining/ Detectives, Private/ Police/ Smuggling


Psychological Elements

aside from Mrs. Cool's outbursts of petulance and bigotry, the characters tend to behave rationally. One woman responds vindictively and with violence to someone she thinks has poisoned her; another is a psychopathic killer motivated by greed and the need to control others.The detective firm of Cool and Lam is approached by a man who wants to know why his ward, whom he supports generously, has sold a valuable piece of jewelry. Suspecting the ward's other guardian, Donald Lam pays him a visit, only to find him dead near the cage of his pet crow, a bird with a small vocabulary and a larcenous disposition. Fearing that his own life is in peril, the surviving guardian asks that Lam protect him. Lam doesn't trust the man; he declines the offer, trying instead to solve the crime by tracing the itinerary of the jewelry. Ultimately, he has to follow the path to its origins, an illegal emerald mine in Colombia, where he finds a mine supervisor who could unravel the crime. Unfortunately, the mine manager's enemies have easy access to dynamite, and they blow the man up into little bits before he can reveal much information. But with the help of the Colombian authorities (and probably some knowledge of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas), Lam is able, upon his return to L.A., both to solve the crime and to earn a hefty fee for his firm.