Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Darling, It's Death: Richard S. Prather

Before I read this book by Richard S. Prather, all I knew about the author was that he had written a series about private investigator Shell Scott, and that the books were published with some great paperback covers. All the books I have picked up so far were from the book sale and I bought them for the colorful covers featuring gorgeous ladies, usually scantily clad.

Now I know that Prather was born in 1921, in Santa Ana, California, making him about the same age as my father. He attended junior college in Riverside, California, and was in the US Merchant Marine during World War II. After the war, he worked in a civilian job at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. This is interesting to me because my husband and I lived in Riverside for several years before we moved to Santa Barbara and got married.

There were over 40 Shell Scott books; most were novels but some were collections of short stories or novellas. The cover of The Shell Scott Sampler (1969) boasts "Over 40,000,000 SHELL SCOTT books sold!" In 1986 he was honored with the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

This is how William L. DeAndrea describes the Shell Scott series in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994):
The first ten Scott adventures were Mike Hammerish stories without the angst. The eleventh, Strip for Murder (1955), found Shell chasing a murderer in a nudist colony, and something clicked. The combination of a patriotic, unbrooding detective with an unabashed delight in the company of beautiful women, steeped in satire and slapstick, and structured round a solid PI story caught on with millions of readers. Scott's breezy, we're-all-friends-here, wisecracking first-person narration added to the fun.
Darling, It's Death was published in 1952, and thus fits in the "Mike Hammerish stories without the angst" category. Scott is in Acapulco on a job for a union official who is being blackmailed. His job is to find the blackmailer and get all of the evidence he is using to blackmail Scott's client. In Acapulco, he finds that he has walked into a convention of crime syndicate bigwigs, intent on taking over the unions to gain power. The case was not an easy task in the first place; now he can see that it is part of a much bigger operation. At the same time, he takes on a smaller case of a young woman, Gloria, who wants to leave her husband but can't because he threatens to kill her.

I found the book to be fun, humorous, and I liked that Shell Scott does not take himself too seriously. The book is full of beautiful, well-endowed women, most often dressed in bathing suits or very revealing clothes. Shell cannot understand why the women all go for him. He describes himself:
I'm a shade less than six-two and weigh 206 full of tacos, but there were a number of better-looking guys around the pool. My nearly white, inch-long hair sticks up in the air like a white cowlick, and the white eyebrows like toppled L's that slant up over my gray eyes and fall down at the outer ends don't add up to Caesar Romero. The slightly bent nose doesn't enhance my beauty either.
There are several women who take part in this story but the one that Scott gets involved with is Maria, an acrobatic dancer at a club frequented by the criminals that he is now involved with. There is some very over the top action going on as the story comes to a climax, Shell fulfills his assignments. The escapades are unrealistic and sometimes bizarre, but once I adjusted to this, I enjoyed the ride. To me he seemed like a James Bond character or a super hero PI, but not so serious. With lots of women and some sex. But the books were not one romp in the hay after another. Far from it.

The only warning I would give is that some readers may be bothered by the politically incorrect portrayals of women. However, Scott is not using the  women or taking advantage of them. It did not bother me because of the time period it was written in, but everyone has their own level of tolerance for that type of thing.

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Publisher:  Fawcett, 1954. (orig. pub. 1952)
Length:     143 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Shell Scott, #6
Setting:     Acapulco, Mexico
Genre:       Mystery
Source:     Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2008.

20 comments:

  1. I read the Shell Scott books years ago, they were in my Dad's library. I found them funny.

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    1. I wish I had discovered them when I was younger. They are a lot of fun.

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  2. Very interesting, Tracy. I've heard of his work, but never gotten/taken the time to read it. I'm not crazy about blatant sexism, but as you say, the times were the times. May try one of these out.

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    1. I like the Shell Scott books. Prather's offbeat sense of humor make them so enjoyable for me. As you discovered sometimes the plots are ridiculously over-the-top or enter the territory of the bizarre like in Dead Man's Walk, one of my favorites in the series for its voodoo storyline. BTW - did Shell call any of the women "tomato" in this one? You can't get much more dated or insulting than that! :^)

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    2. Margot, You should try at least one of them. I think you would find this an interesting read. I would have to read more of them to see what I really think of the treatment of women in the series, but I wasn't offended.

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    3. John, I did see your excellent review of Dead Man's Walk. I found only one use of the word tomato in reference to a woman in this book. I never thought of that before ... how tomato came to used for a woman or a pretty woman.

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  3. Tracy, I bought an ebook of Prather's "The Wailing Frail" but couldn't finish it in time for Patti's special on the author. I have enjoyed the novel so far. The writing is crisp.

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    1. Prashant, I am glad to hear you are enjoying the Prather book. I am definitely going to read more of them, and looking forward to it.

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  4. I have not even hear of this author. So much of my crime reading education still to get through :)

    Your comment about the depiction of women is spot on - though I find my own tolerance level varies. My recent 1950 book has some fairly obnoxious views about women (or girls as they are generally referred to in the book) but it didn't bother me nearly as much as a book I read last year set 2 decades later but espousing similar views. I don't know why sometimes it bothers me more than others - sometimes I can give allowances for the time period of the writing and others I can't. Just ornery I guess

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    1. I learned about Prather because of the artwork on the paperback covers. Many times the artwork has little to do with the content, but in his case it often does relate to a certain extent. I am glad I got motivated to sample one of them.

      It is interesting to see how our reactions to sexism or violence in books can vary from author to author or book to book. I still get very irritated when men call women girls. It amazes me how many men in the workplace (who are much younger than me) still do that.

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  5. Not tried him, not got anything by him either. Probably an author I'll pass on.

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    1. Reading this book was a very different experience for me, Col. I think I will like others that I read even more, now that I know what to expect.

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  6. SHOCKED SHOCKED...gasp...did you say s-s-s-sexist??? Now that I have my wind back...I did enjoy your review, Tracy. I did!

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. I saw your comment at Tip the Wink about Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series. I had wondered how close that series might be to this one. I will have to find one of those and give it a try.

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    2. Not much similarity, Tracy. Helm was a secret agent with none of the levity in the Shell Scott novels. I was a big fan, tho, and read the entire series. Hamilton was a good storyteller.

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    3. Interesting, Mathew. I was probably confused by the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin, not that I have seen any of those. Still interested in finding some of those books to try.

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    4. I believe I saw only one of the films, Tracy, and was aghast that Dean Martin was cast as Helm. As I recall the thing was done as a farce, a satire of the Helm book series. In a word: travesty.

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    5. It does sound like that, Mathew. Let us hope that the author benefited from the adaptations, even if they did not represent the books well.

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  7. Those covers are wonderful - I had never heard of this series, but should try them.

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    1. Moira, you would enjoy them. There are descriptions of the clothing on the scantily clad ladies, and Shell Scott dresses very loudly, in this book, and I think in others.

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