28 October 2012

A Non-iconic Writer

by Louis Willis
She came into my office like a gal out in the woods in one of those sexy movies, smiled at me, flowed across the room with fluidity of hot molasses, sank into the big leather chair opposite my desk, and crossed her legs slowly, gracefully, gently, as though taking care not to bruise any smooth, tender flesh.
… is how Hollywood PI Shell Scott, the sole owner of Shelton Scott Investigations, describes the lady who enters his office in “The Guilty Pleasure,” the first story in Richard S. Prather’s The Shell Scott Sampler. The lady turns out not to be a bimbo or floozy or dame or babe or gal, but a very rich, respectful lady asking for help.  

Richard S. Prather (1921-2007) introduced readers to his hardboiled detective, Shell Scott, in the 1950s. I don’t remember when I began reading his stories, but it was about the time I also discovered Hammett and Chandler. I liked his novels and stories best  because “he also saw the banana peel on the sidewalk. And then he dispatched his Hollywood private eye...to take a little walk” (thrillingdetective.com). It is the banana peel on the sidewalk that separates Shell Scott from the other hardboiled PIs. He doesn’t take life too seriously. Like all hardboiled detectives, He uses his fist, gun, and intuition to solve crimes and catch criminals. Though he’s always thinking about sleeping with which ever woman comes his way, he is no sexist.

“Eye Witness: Richard S. Prather: 1921-2007” an article by Kevin Burton Smith in Mystery Scene Magazine (No. 99, 2007) reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Prather stories. After reading the article, I exhumed from one of the boxes of books where they were buried the four books of Prather’s that hadn’t been lost in my move from California back home to Tennessee and put them in my to-be-reread box. I didn’t think of him again until I started reading Stephen King. They have nothing in common, except both are writers, and I can’t explain why reading King reminded me of Prather.

To revive my interest in this non-iconic writer, I reread the five stories in The Shell Scott Sampler. The best story is “The Guilty Pleasure” in which Lydia wants Shell to find out what the little thing she found under her bed is. No spoiler here, so I’m not saying what it was. Okay, I know some of you will guess.

The worst story is “The Cautious Killers” in which Shell has to find out who shot at him and why as he and his date and another couple exited a restaurant. Too much descriptive baggage surrounds an acceptable plot. More telling than showing, especially the descriptions of the women, which slows the action. I thought maybe Prather was writing to increase the payment for the story, you know, a penny or two per word. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the story.

Shell seems more familiar to me than Hammett's Continental Op or Chandler’s Marlowe, so much so that I feel comfortable referring to him by his first name. Of all the hardboiled PIs, Shell is the one I would rather have drink with in a bar in Hollywood as I listened to his stories about his cases, provided I could keep his attention from straying every time a beautiful woman walked into the bar.

Dean Davis' excellent Prather web site appears off-line at the moment, but for more on Prather, try Eddie Stevenson's Gold Medal pages on Prather.

Warning to all writers of murder mysteries: do not plan any murders on Halloween. I have it on good authority that the victim will come back to haunt you. This authority also warned me not to use my computer on Halloween because the gremlins that cause so much frustration– frozen hard drives, lost files, missing fonts, etc.– become zombies and vampires and werewolves and attack the user– namely me.

You have been warned!

Have a 


11 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I read Shell Scott stories as a kid– I remember the white-haired detective.

Louis, as usual it's a great review.

Fran Rizer said...

Louis, my mother went to work when I was ten years old. I became a latchkey child who had the freedom of my dad's bookcase. I do believe Shell Scott was my first "real" detective, and I loved his stories dearly. Thanks for a trip back in time, and I've decided to read Shell Scott again due to your blog today. Thanks!

Velma said...

The opening paragraph, that was written about me, you know, your secretary. Darn good writer, wasn't he? That was me, just so you know.

John Floyd said...

I knew.

Leigh Lundin said...

(laughing)

Louis A. Willis said...

Leigh, Fran
I’m glad I could prick your memories.

Velma
I didn’t (lol).

Anonymous said...

Can't say I've heard of Scott. good review

Jeff Baker said...

I'd only heard the name Richard Prather and knew nothing of his work, so I just ordered one of the collections. There was a "Shell Scott Mystery Magazine" for a few issues in the '60's as well.

Dixon Hill said...

Louis, this was great. Gotta read this guy.

Zeke Hoskin said...

The single most hilarious escape scene in all literature.

Anonymous said...

Great reviews.Back in the days,I bought every Scott novel(couldn't get enough of him).He was hilarious in his capers.When I have available funds I hope to purchase some or all of his novels.