I just received an email from Linda Pendleton, widow of crime fiction writer Don Pendleton, telling me about an interview she did late last year with Richard S. Prather, now 85 and most well-known as the creator of private eye Shell Scott, whose wacky capers in the 1950s, mostly for Gold Medal, kept kids (teen-agers) like me turning the pages as quickly as they could.

The interview is online as part of her own website. It’s a long one, and it goes deeply into both Prather’s writing techniques and his philosophy of writing as well as his views on life itself.

What I’ll do is tease you with some of the questions. You’ll have to read the interview to learn what Prather’s answers were.


Linda: The first Shell Scott novel, Case of the Vanishing Beauty was published in 1950 and your long career was off and running. Was that your first publication or sale of your work? Did you have an agent for your first sale?

Linda: You have had a number of short stories published almost from the beginning of your career. Have you enjoyed writing short stories as much as novels?

Linda: Let’s talk about the creation of your Shell Scott character. Obviously, with the number of books you have written in the Shell Scott series, and the huge success you achieved, there must be special qualities about him as a protagonist that stay with your readers. Many fans have found your stories to be full of humor and some fans even refer to them as hilarious. As the creator of Shell Scott, what do you consider to be the essence of Shell Scott? What qualities did you give him as a character that made him outstanding and appealing to readers? I assume he “grew” during the years of writing the series. In other words, how did his world view evolve from his “younger” days?

Linda: You’ve been one of the lucky authors who was able to have a solid career and write full time. And I know you had the support of your beautiful wife, Tina, throughout those years. Having lost Don, I personally know how difficult it has to be for you since Tina’s death two years ago, and after 58 years of marriage. You very well may hold the record for the longevity of marriage for a writer! I understand Tina helped you with your work, such as suggesting that good book title you just mentioned—and typed, and I would imagine gave you some critical appraisal of manuscripts from time to time. Writing can be such a lonely endeavor as we are sequestered with our fictional characters, sometimes for long periods of time. How important was it to you, and to your relationship, that she was so supportive throughout the years?

Linda: Don had Executioner cover art by artist/illustrator, Gil Cohen on many of his books, who captured the essence of Mack Bolan. You mentioned many of your Gold Medal editions cover art was done by well-known illustrator, Robert McGinnis, and he just did the cover for your recent reissue release of The Peddler — and, by the way, the cover looks very nice. Obviously, McGinnis’ illustrations of beautiful sexy women on the covers of your books may have caught the attention of book buyers. I understand you wrote an Introduction to The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis by Art Scott, published in 2001. You covered some of this already, but again, how important do you feel cover art is for the sale of a book? Did you have any influence on cover design on your novels?


Linda: Richard, here it is at the end of 2006 and you are now eighty-five years of age. What are your thoughts on the technological and scientific advances you’ve seen in your lifetime?

Linda: I understand you have a Shell Scott unpublished manuscript, The Death Gods, of 1,000 pages. What are your plans for this novel?

Richard: Ah, yes. The Death Gods. You’re right, Linda, I do have that 1,000-page manuscript here. It’s …

Richard S. Prather – Bibliography

Don Pendleton – Bibliography

I might a little late in discovering this, but I just found an interview online with librarian Gary Warren Neibuhr, author of several landmark reference works in world of mystery fiction. It’s at Murderati and dated 12/29/07, but it can hardly be considered out of date.

Gary is the author of A Reader’s Guide to the Private Eye Novel (Reader’s Guides to Mystery Novels) (G. K. Hall, 1993) and Make Mine a Mystery: A Reader’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction (Genreflecting Advisory Series) (Libraries Unlimited, 2003). I think both titles are probably self-explanatory, and if you don’t own them yourself, please make sure that you live close to a library that does. If they don’t, bug them until they do.

Gary’s most recent book is Read ‘Em Their Writes: A Handbook for Mystery and Crime Fiction Book Discussions (Libraries Unlimited, 2006). If the title doesn’t tell you exactly what the book’s about, it’s a self-help guide in helping you organize your own mystery discussion group, how to get participants, select titles, and so on. The interview concentrates most heavily on this, of course, but he talks about the other two books, too, as well as his own personal interests in mystery fiction. (Primarily private eye novels, it is not too surprising to learn: he has 6000 of them, he says, in his basement.)


One of the most popular articles that ever appeared on the original Mystery*File website was written by Gary about private eye Honey West, about whom if you know little, you should go read it, and right now.

If you are interested in historical fiction as well as mysteries, you really ought to be reading my daughter Sarah Johnson’s blog

And as I’m sure you’re well aware, once in a while, or even oftener than that, the two fields cross over. In today’s post she interviews Deanna Raybourn, whose first novel, Silent in the Grave, takes place in 1866 and is a PI novel as well, assuming that PI stands for “private enquiry agent” as much as it does the mean street variety of private eye that came along later.

Silent in the Grave

Here’s Sarah’s description of the book:

Silent in the Grave begins a trilogy starring Lady Julia Grey, an unwitting and unlikely amateur detective. Her adventure begins in 1866. Her inattentive husband, Sir Edward Grey, has just collapsed and died during a dinner party at his London townhouse. The family doctor blames Edward’s longstanding heart condition, and Julia believes him, despite suggestions by Edward’s private inquiry agent, Nicholas Brisbane, that it was murder. It’s over a year later when Julia comes across compelling evidence that proves Brisbane was right. She engages Brisbane’s services, and during their investigation, she uncovers unpleasant and frequently sordid facts about her late husband’s behavior, as well as surprising truths about herself.

The interview that follows goes into both the historical aspects of the book and the writing of historical fiction in general. It’s well worth your time in reading.

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