With four decades of overwhelming commercial success, Richard Prather's 'Shell Scott' series is unquestionably one of the best private-eye series brands ever. While wacky and outlandish, the screwball style of the Shell Scott character was adored by crime-fiction and mystery readers. “Bodies in Bedlam” (1951) is an early Fawcett Gold Medal installment in what is arguably the most creative era of the series. It was the first of three Shell Scott novels written in 1951 – the others being “Everybody Had a Gun” and “Find This Woman.”
Shell Scott is basically the West Coast version of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, albeit not as serious. Operating out of Hollywood, many of Scott's cases revolve around the film industry. “Bodies in Bedlam” follows that familiar setting by placing Scott at a posh industry party in the Hollywood Hills where the paperback detective winds up in a scuffle with an aspiring actor...who is later found murdered. All fingers point to Scott as the killer, thus the narrative develops with Scott as his own client endeavoring to learn the identity of the real killer.
Like most of these titles, Scott's tongue in cheek approach to investigation is paired with his substantial sex appeal. Women dig the white hair. Four beautiful actresses throw themselves at Scott, begging to be fulfilled while being absolved of any wrongdoing. Scott begins to connect the dots that suggests the aspiring actor may have been selling nude photos of Hollywood's most-endowed performers. Is there a connection? Could one of these “bodies in bed...lam” really be capable of a heinous act?
This was my first experience with both Richard Prather and the Shell Scott character. I wasn't holding out for a huge payoff or an overly satisfying read. Shell Scott is a funny guy, shoots straight and has a flair for action. But, if I'm reading a cock-eyed detective story...I'd prefer Carter Brown. I own about fifteen Shell Scott novels, and I'm going to read more...but I'm in no hurry. “Bodies in Bedlam” was an elementary, sexy whodunit. Nothing more, nothing less.
Fun Fact: Soliciting nude photos of actresses in the crime-noir genre seems to be a recurring theme. William Ard's “You'll Get Yours” was published a year after “Bodies in Bedlam” and focuses on an aspiring actress and leaked nudie pics. The same for Louis Malley's “Stool Pigeon” from 1953. This was evidently before leaked photos and promiscuous videos were a catapult to stardom.
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I've always found the Shell Scott novels too silly for my taste. But that never stopped me from collecting them.ReplyDelete
you said this is your first experience with Shell Scott but you reviewed Strip for Murder last MayReplyDelete
I like Prather and find the Shell Scott series to be delightfully non-PC. I often, though, don't want to spend the time to read a novel. It is then I turn to Prather's Shell Scott short stories. And he wrote quite a few of them. There are three collections plus another volume of novellas. Prather has a story in the recently published "The Best of Manhunt" (http://starkhousepress.com/vorzimmer.php). I am currently reading the stories in "A Shell Scott Sampler," and particularly enjoyed "The Live Ones." Kevin Burton Smith on the Thrilling Detective site has a good overview of Prather and the Scott series (http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/prather.html). Glad to see Prather reviewed here.ReplyDelete