February 27, 2007


Richard S. Prather: Creator of the private eye Shell Scott: Richard Scott Prather, crime novelist: born Santa Ana, California 9 September 1921; married 1945 Tina Hager (died 2004); died Sedona, Arizona 1[4] February 2007 (Independent, 27 February 2007)

The mystery writer Richard S. Prather will forever be associated with one of the top-selling, hard-hitting and raciest paperback lines of the years after the Second World War: Fawcett Gold Medal Books ("The Gold Medal seal on this book," read the helpful back-cover strapline, "means it has never been published as a book before").

Prather was discovered by Gold Medal's legendary editor Bill Lengel, who spent the early 1950s building up a team of writers who virtually created a hardboiled house style for the line: David Goodis, Charlie Williams, Vin Packer (i.e. Marijane Meaker), John D. Macdonald, Bruno Fischer, Richard Himmel. Prather threw in his job as a clerk at a US Air Force base to become a self- employed writer on the strength of Lengel's enthusiastic reception of The Case of the Vanishing Beauty, which duly appeared in Gold Medal's lists in the line's first 12 months, in 1950.

Thereafter he pounded out over 20 fast and furious - and often very funny - novel-length yarns for Lengel, from 1950 through to the early 1960s, sometimes producing two or three books in a single year. His annus mirabilis was 1952, in which he produced two thrillers for Fawcett, two for Lion Books (one, The Peddler, as by "Douglas Ring"), one for Graphic (Pattern for Murder, as by "David Knight"), and Dagger of Flesh for Falcon Books.

Although his early books were only mildly amusing, Prather soon settled into a groove of hilarious near-parody of the hardboiled genre itself, although he could still throw off the odd startlingly vicious little tale - such as The Peddler, a novel about the Mob which pulled no punches and provided few laughs.

Prather's series character was the private eye Shell (short for Sheldon) Scott (Prather's own middle name), a guy, to quote his creator, "with an eye for the broads and the frails", a talent for mangling the English language, and a glow-in-the-dark white-hair crew-cut, whose adventures, as the years went by, just grew wackier and more hilariously bizarre. Strip for Murder (1955) has Scott at large in a nudist colony, at one stage fronting a hundred nudists at their vigorous morning callisthenics, and finally escaping from the bad guys, au naturel, in a hot-air balloon sailing over downtown Los Angeles. It cannot be said that Prather did not give his readers their full 25-centsworth.

Linda Pendleton -- widow of the great Don Pendleton, author of the Mack Bolan: Executioner series -- wrote to correct the death date above: Mr. Prather died on the 14th. She also sent a link to an interview she did with Mr. Prather, probably his last, Exclusive Interview with Richard S. Prather (Linda Pendleton, Copyright 2006 by Linda Pendleton and Richard S. Prather)
Our Dad used to read both Mr. Prather and Mr. Pendleton -- along with Nick Carter, The Destroyer, and The Death Merchant -- and got me hooked in my early teens. These are the guys -- along with Maxwell Grant (Walter Gibson) and Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent) -- who made me love reading.

Another Giant Falls (J. Kingston Pierce, 2/16/07, Rapsheet)

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2007 8:14 AM
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