Showing posts with label Richard Prather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richard Prather. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Shell Scott #02 - Bodies in Bedlam

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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Friday, May 18, 2018

Shell Scott #12 - Strip for Murder

Richard Prather built a career on his 'Shell Scott' character with around 35 novels spanning from 1950 to 1987. Countless short stories appeared in the pages of 'Manhunt' and 'Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine', and there was even a short-lived 'Shell Scott Mystery Magazine' that existed for a bit in the 1960s.

The 'Shell Scott' paperbacks have gone through multiple printings over the past half century with some beautiful cover art by Robert McGinnis as well as some weird photo covers featuring an odd-looking model in a silver wig. I’m told that the best 'Shell Scott' stories were the early ones published by Fawcett Gold Medal. Later editions either suffered from too much madcap comedy or injections of Prather’s own conservative politics into the stories. My informal polling - and an article by the late Ed Gorman - told me that 1955’s Shell Scott #9: “Strip For Murder” was among his best.

The setup in “Strip For Murder” is fairly proforma: After a young heiress impulsively marries a man she hardly knows, her wealthy mother hires Los Angeles private detective Shell Scott to investigative his background. Is this a case of true love or is the new husband a conniving gold digger? The danger of this assignment lies in the fact that Scott isn’t the first investigator on the case. His predecessor was found murdered on a rural road during the course of his investigation, so our hero also has at least one murder to solve along the way.

Scott is the stereotypical, wise-cracking, skirt-chasing private eye. He’s hard-boiled but funny.
Because this is a 'Shell Scott' novel, the action quickly moves to a nudist camp where Scott is called upon to go undercover as the naked fitness director. It should come as no surprise to the reader that every woman (or tomato, as he often calls them) at the camp is beautiful, luscious, and willing. Comedy set pieces throughout the book pad the paperback’s length without compromising the plot.

Other than some wacky situations, this is a pretty standard private eye novel. Scott follows logical leads, gets laid, and has his life repeatedly threatened as he gets closer to the truth. There are red herrings, bar brawls, and sunbathing contests adding to the fun, but the core mystery is nothing you haven’t seen before if you’ve ever read 'Milo March', 'Mike Shayne', or the works of Carter Brown. This genre is comfort food, and this execution of the craft in “Strip for Murder” was good reading - just don’t expect a masterpiece.