Friday, January 15, 2016

FFB: Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters -- Richard S. Prather

Shell Scott isn't likely to be forgotten, not with the sales figures achieved by Richard S. Prather's accounts of his adventures.  Check out the cover to the left.  "Over 35,000,000 Shell Scott Books Sold," and that was in 1967, years before Scott's career ended for the first time in 1975, when Prather sued Pocket Books because he believed that they weren't giving him the correct sales figures for his books.  Thanks to editor Michael Seidman, Prather resurrected Shell Scott a decade later with the 1986 publication of The Amber Effect, but the huge audience for the kind of novels that had been so popular a few decades before had begun to vanish.  One more novel, Shellshock, followed, and that was the end of the series.

I was lucky enough to meet Richard S. Prather and talk to him a little bit at the first Baltimore Bouchercon in 1986 when he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Private-Eye Writers of America.  It's hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago.  Prather was a dapper little guy, and the one thing I remember from his panel is that he said he outlined not just the entire novel before writing it but also every chapter in the novel.  But I'm not going to talk about one of his novels.  I'm going to talk about a story collection.  Why?  Well, I like the cover, for one thing, and for another thing, I'd never read any of the stories before.  I've read a good many of the novels already, though not all of them.

"The Best Motive" (it's jealousy, in case you were wondering) begins with Scott entering The Haunt, a nightclub "with lively corpses and a hot orchestra."  The waiters dress in glowing skeleton suits and wear skull hoods.  Since this is a Shell Scott story, you'd be right it you thought that through a bizarre series of circumstances, which involve Scott getting beaten up and hit on the head, Scott would end up in one of those outfits.  By the way, Scott is hit on the head and knocked out an alarming number of times in these stories, more than any ten NFL players in an entire season.  Scott is working for a beautiful young woman named Ellen, who has "a shape like a mating pretzel."  

"Crime of Passion" takes place at a wild party were a man gets roasted instead of a pig.  Scott's method of getting the confession is strictly for laughs.

"Squeeze Play" packs a lot of plot into a short story, and it's not Scott who's being squeezed.  However, when he remembers at the end that a beautiful tomato still has his hundred bucks, you get the idea that he might get squeezed, after all.  Tomato, by the way, is a term Scott uses often to refer to women.  (In the late 1940s, a pretty cousin of mine attended Stanford University.  She was a nationally ranked amateur tennis player, but there was no women's tennis team at Stanford.  So she practiced with the men.  She was known as "The Tennis Tomato."  As far as I know, she didn't object.)

"Butcher" is much less lighthearted than the other stories here, and the ending is so unPC that it might give some people the fantods.

"Babes, Bodies and Bullets" is the quintessential Shell Scott title, so I'll forgive the missing Oxford comma.  It begins with Scott at a boring party where people are talking about opera.  He prefers the kind of party with "juicy tomatoes dancing can-cans."  But don't worry.  Soon enough he's confronted by "the kind of woman who made men want to join nudist camps.  With her, of course."  He's eventually smuggled into a "hospital" where the bad guys are fixed up, and there's plenty of shooting and head-banging.  At the happy ending, however, Scott finds himself in a room with two beautiful tomatoes and three stiff drinks.  "This was my kind of party."

"The Double Take" begins the morning after a different party, one at which Scott claims to have consumed "bourbon, scotch, martinis, and maybe even swamp water."  He's not feeling well, so he goes to a bar where he's confronted by a beautiful tomato who demands $20,000 dollars and then starts blasting away at him with a .22.  Then she runs into the women's restroom.  A man follows her, and Scott follows both of them, but he's too late.  They've gone through the window.  After that, things get complicated, but you can bet Scott winds up happy at the end.

"Film Strip" opens with Scott, a movie camera and a hot tomato who's wearing a bikini and who confesses that she's always wanted to be a stripper but has suppressed the urge.  Hilarity ensues until someone starts shooting at Scott.  This one doesn't so much end as promise a lot more to come.

Any of these stories would be a good introduction to Shell Scott if you haven't read about him before.  Obviously Scott's zany, violent, sexy adventures are not to everyone's taste, but he appealed to millions at one time.  Others tried to write similar stuff, but nobody could do it like Richard S. Prather.  The stories still work for me.  Shell Scott is the Real Thing.

Update:  Todd Mason's take on the stories in this book can be found here.  

Another Update, this one from Linda Pendleton:  The last Richard Prather Shell Scott mystery is The Death Gods, published in ebook and print in 2011. I've also published my interview with Prather, and that turned out to be his last interview. 

Here is The Death Gods at Amazon

Also Open Road Media is publishing all the series as ebooks, except for The Death Gods, which I handle. 

Prather was such an interesting writer and his humor was often outrageous. 


George said...

I read SHELL SCOTT'S SEVEN SLAUGHTERS decades ago and enjoyed them. Reading your fine review is tempting me to find my copy and reread it!

Todd Mason said...

I landed on this one, too, after I couldn't figure out what I'd done with my stash of MANHUNTs. It is indeed a mixed bag.

Art Scott said...

Kudos to whoever thought to do a Prather Friday! He was a favorite of my youth and a pleasure to reread in my dotage - especially the later full-screwball Shells beginning around Strip for Murder. Prather generously provided a wonderful foreword for my first McGinnis book - I just went back and reread it. I of course was in Baltimore also and enjoyed talking with him (I had a good conversational starter thanks to my name). You recall learning about his work methods; I recall learning that I had been pronouncing his name wrong - rhymes with "bather", not "rather". McGinnis's portrait of Shell Scott hangs on my office wall. Nice to see Dick & Shell remembered.

Unknown said...

I remember learning about the pronunciation in Baltimore, too. I wish I'd asked you to do a guest post on Shell. You're the expert.

Art Scott said...

Doing a guest post sounds like work! Instead, one more tidbit. Prather dedicated something like half his books to his wife Tina, but he had fun with some other dedication. My favorite, from Over Her Dear Body:

This book is dedicated to:
without which it might never have been written.

Unknown said...

My mother liked Yuban Coffee. I'd forgotten about that.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

My friend and frequent contributor to my blog, Barry Ergang, suggested the idea to Patti awhile back. She credits him on her blog. I also read my first Prather novel for today, THE CHEIM MANUSCRIPT, because Barry sent it to me and kept telling me to read it.

I have learned to listen to my elders so I did. Enjoyed it a lot.

Rick Robinson said...

This is one I don't have but sure want, with that cover. Uneven batch of stories be damned, I'll read them. Well, I just learned of the pronunciation now, here. All those years saying it wrong. So PrAther. I'll be darned.

Todd Mason said...

OK, for no obvious reason, my FFB post isn't coming up on anyone's rolling logs.
Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters by Richard S. Prather

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Pendleton said...

Bill, the last Richard Prather Shell Scott mystery is The Death Gods, published in ebook and print in 2011. I've also published my interview with Prather, and that turned out to be his last interview.

Here is The Death Gods at Amazon.

Also Open Road Media is publishing all the series as ebooks, except for The Death Gods, which I handle.

Prather was such an interesting writer and his humor was often outrageous.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Linda. I'll add that info up in the post itself. Nice to know there's another Prather novel out there.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Barry's review of THE DEATH GODS from last August....

He was not complimentary.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link, Kevin.

Mathew Paust said...

Thanks to Barry and Patti for leading this horse to Pond Prather, and to you, Bill, for teaching me how to pronounce the name.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, again, Bill. The post eventually started showing up in various rolling logs. Two hours later.