By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 173rd in my series of Forgotten Books.
This week is special across the various blogs that constitute the Forgotten Books group. Check out the listing at Patti Abbott’s blog by clicking the link at the end of the column. Friday, January 15, has been designated Richard Prather Day, when as many of the bloggers as are inclined will discuss the work of this quintessential ’50s paperback writer.
I will confess up front that I have not read much Prather. I didn’t discover his works when I was at the impressionable age where I would have read everything multiple times. By the time I had found Prather’s work, I was already reading Hammett, Chandler, both McDonalds, Charles Williams and more. Prather was entertaining, but the others were more representative of what I wanted to read. Still, I thought I would give one a try this week.
Prather is best known for his Shell Scott series of detective novels. Scott is a California private eye, tall with blond close cropped hair, a veteran of WWII and able to get into some truly interesting situations.
This novel begins with action on the first page. Shell is walking down the street when someone starts shooting at him. He almost doesn’t even notice it since he is reading the paper about a local hood named Lobo who had contracted a fatal dose of lead the previous night. But when he does, he has no idea who or why is after him.
He cautiously approaches his office and begins running down the list of people who might have a grudge. It might be Marty Sader, who runs a local nightclub and who had hired Shell to check out a horse betting parlor and to get an idea of the take. Shell takes the job but finds out very little, as Lobo approaches him and tells him to stop. This is something he would normally ignore, so he continues his research, but Lobo is a little more insistent the next time. And Lobo is a right hand guy for a bigger fish named Collier Breed with whom Shell does not want to tangle.
When he gets to his office, Shell sees an attractive redhead tentatively approaching the building. When she sees Shell at his window, she crosses over the street headed toward his office. Meanwhile, a short skinny guy with a gun enters the office and attempts to take Shell away. There is a fight and he knocks the hood out. The redhead shows up and recognizes him as one of Sader’s guys. She says Sader wants to kill them both and that she has just escaped from him. She won’t talk until Shell gets rid of the hood, so he sends her down to the bar below his office and takes the hood to a nearby cop.
When he gets back to the bar, he discovers the girl never made it there. He finds her purse and learns her name is Iris Gordon. He tracks down her address. He meets her barely clothed roommate, Mia, and finds that they both work for Sader. Figuring that if she escaped from Sader earlier, perhaps she has been taken back there. He tries Sader’s house first and finds a drunken Mrs. Sader shooting a big gun at bales of hay.
Soon he is involved with two gangs, lots of people with guns, some fast talking and quick thinking — and lots of dead bodies. It’s a fast-moving, quick read about attempted takeovers, murder and more.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I would have probably loved it when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t bad. It had a fair bit of skewed humor, which was OK, but a little can go a long way. If you’ve not read Prather, this isn’t a bad one to start with. Chronologically, it was the third Shell Scott adventure and the series was starting to get its quirky feel.
Check out the other Prather reviews on Friday and give him a try. As always, your mileage may vary.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.