The New York Times in a recent books column has announced the publication of a long forgotten book by Erle Stanley Gardner. This was written in 1939 as the second in his series of books featuring the detectives Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. His publisher informed him that Miss Cool’s coarse language and bad habits made publication unadvisable. Gardner set it aside, but the series continued, resulting in a total of two dozen volumes. The lost volume is entitled The Knife Slipped, and it will be issued next week in a paperback edition with an appropriately lurid 1940’s style cover.
The Times story also mentions that Evelyn Waugh was a fan of Gardner’s work and quotes a 1949 interview of Waugh by Harvey Breit that appeared in the Times (13 March 1949). Waugh, then in the US for a lecture tour, was asked what American writers he admired. After mentioning Thomas Merton, J F Powers and Christopher Isherwood as the best young writers he went on to say:
The best American writer is, of course, Erle Stanley Gardner…Do I really mean that? By all means.”
Waugh did not meet Gardner on his lecture tour but did mention him several times in other interviews in US newspapers as his favorite US author. Many in the US, including Gardner, thought this was another one of Waugh’s jokes at their expanse. This was clarified, however, when the two writers later had a brief correspondence. Waugh wrote Gardner a fan letter in which he questioned Gardner’s use of the word “davenport” for a sofa. In the letter (dated 20 June 1960) he introduced himself to Gardner as “one of the keenest admirers of your work.” Gardner was skeptical that this was from Evelyn Waugh the well known writer and had an editor answer, but then added his own note to the letter informing Waugh that if he was:
the Evelyn Waugh who wrote that wonderful expose of Hollywood and apparently you are…you have the greatest gift of satire I have ever encountered and that means philosophical perspective and writing ability of a high order.” (Letters, 546)
Alfred Borrello, writing in an early issue of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, got permission to publish this correspondence which he had obtained from Gardner himself. Still in some lingering doubt about the bona fides of Waugh’s admiration for Gardner’s work, Borrello wrote to Laura Waugh and asked her to elaborate. She explained that her husband had, indeed, read every one of Gardner’s books and that his appreciation for them had spread to other members of the family (EWN, 4.3, Winter 1970).