It didn’t take long for the news to get around. James Reasoner, Ed Gorman and Bill Crider were among the first to have gotten the news of Mr. Prather’s death online, but I’d heard it from Al Hubin by way of John Herrington (in England) just minutes before I saw it on Bill’s blog. It must be true, and yet it’s still hard to believe.

   I’m not positive, but I’m all but convinced that it was one of Shell Scott’s crazy capers in the mid-1950s that introduced me to Gold Medal paperback fiction. I’d been reading the Hardy Boys before that, as I’ve related before, and while the details of what happened when are not exactly clear, I know it wasn’t much earlier that I’d started in on the shelf of Erle Stanley Gardner hardcovers I’d discovered in the Cadillac (MI) public library.

Shell Scott

   Perry Mason was nothing like Shell Scott, a private eye with a leer and not much savoir faire, and there was no going back. My innocence was gone. No, I didn’t abandon Perry. I read those, too, the entire shelf. But I also read all of those paperbacks with the yellow spines in the supermarket spinner rack, with new books in every Wednesday, or was it Tuesday, on my way home from high school, some of them while standing right there at the rack, as who had 75 cents to spend whenever another three of them came out?

   Mr. Prather came up for discussion on this blog not too long ago, when I mentioned the interview that Linda Pendleton did with him late last year, and I suggest that you go read it again. You did read it the first time, didn’t you?

   Here’s his entry in Allen J. Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, in chronological order. I won’t list all of the reprints, of which there were many: n = novel, co = collection, ss = short story, nv = novelette, na = novella; SS = Shell Scott.

PRATHER, RICHARD S(cott) (1921- )

* Case of the Vanishing Beauty (n.) Gold Medal 1950 [SS]
* Bodies in Bedlam (n.) Gold Medal 1951 [SS]
* Everybody Had a Gun (n.) Gold Medal 1951 [SS]
* Find This Woman (n.) Gold Medal 1951 [SS]

Find This Woman

* Dagger of Flesh (n.) Falcon 1952
* Darling, It’s Death (n.) Gold Medal 1952 [SS]
* Lie Down, Killer (n.) Lion 1952 [SS]
* Way of a Wanton (n.) Gold Medal 1952 [SS]
* Ride a High Horse (n.) Gold Medal 1953. Also published as: Too Many Crooks. Gold Medal, 1956. [SS]
* Always Leave ’Em Dying (n.) Gold Medal 1954 [SS]
* Pattern for Panic (n.) Abelard-Schuman 1954. Revised version, with SS: Gold Medal, 1961.
* Strip for Murder (n.) Gold Medal 1956 [SS]
* Too Many Crooks (n.) Gold Medal 1956; See: Ride a High Horse (Gold Medal, 1953).
* The Wailing Frail (n.) Gold Medal 1956 [SS]
* Have Gat – Will Travel (co) Gold Medal 1957 [SS]
   # • The Build-Up • ss Suspect Feb ’56
   # • Code 197 • ss Manhunt Jun ’55
   # • Murder’s Strip Tease • ss
   # • Sinner’s Alley • ss
   # • The Sleeper Caper • ss Manhunt Mar ’53
   # • Trouble Shooter • ss Accused Jan ’56
* Three’s a Shroud (co) Gold Medal 1957 [SS]
   # • Blood Ballot • nv Menace Nov ’54
   # • Dead Give-Away • na
   # • Hot-Rock Rumble • nv Manhunt Jun ’53
* The Scrambled Yeggs (n.) Gold Medal 1958; See: Pattern for Murder (Graphic 1952), as by David Knight. [SS]
* Slab Happy (n.) Gold Medal 1958 [SS]
* Take a Murder, Darling (n.) Gold Medal 1958 [SS]
* Double in Trouble [with Stephen Marlowe] (n.) Gold Medal 1959 [SS with Chester Drum]
* Over Her Dear Body (n.) Gold Medal 1959 [SS]
* Dance with the Dead (n.) Gold Medal 1960 [SS].
* Dig That Crazy Grave (n.) Gold Medal 1961 [SS]
* Shell Scott’s Seven Slaughters (co) Gold Medal 1961 [SS]
   # • Babes, Bodies and Bullets • ss
   # • The Best Motive • ss Manhunt Jan ’53
   # • Butcher • ss Manhunt Jun ’54
   # • Crime of Passion • ss
   # • The Double Take • nv Manhunt Jul ’53
   # • Film Strip • nv Ed McBains Mystery Book #1 ’60
   # • Squeeze Play • ss Manhunt Oct ’53
* Kill the Clown (n.) Gold Medal 1962 [SS]
* Dead Heat (n.) Pocket Books 1963 [SS]
* The Peddler (n.) Gold Medal 1963; See: Lion, 1952 as by Douglas Ring.
* The Cockeyed Corpse (n.) Gold Medal 1964 [SS]
* Joker in the Deck (n.) Gold Medal 1964 [SS]
* The Trojan Hearse (n.) Pocket Books 1964 [SS]
* Dead Man’s Walk (n.) Pocket Books 1965 [SS]
* Kill Him Twice (n.) Pocket Books 1965 [SS]
* The Meandering Corpse (n.) Trident 1965 [SS]
* The Kubla Khan Caper (n.) Trident 1966 [SS]
* Gat Heat (n.) Trident 1967 [SS]
* The Cheim Manuscript (n.) Pocket Books 1969 [SS]
* Kill Me Tomorrow (n.) Pocket Books 1969 [SS]
* The Shell Scott Sampler (co) Pocket Books 1969 [SS]
   # • The Bawdy Beautiful • ss
   # • The Cautious Killers • ss Shell Scott Mystery Magazine Nov ’66
   # • The Da Vinci Affair • ss Shell Scott Mystery Magazine Feb ’66
   # • The Guilty Party • ss Come Seven/Come Death, ed. Henry Morrison, Pocket, 1965
   # • The Live Ones • ss, 1956
* Dead-Bang (n.) Pocket Books 1971 [SS]
* The Sweet Ride (n.) Pocket Books 1972 [SS]
* The Sure Thing (n.) Pocket Books 1975 [SS]
* The Amber Effect (n.) Tor 1986 [SS]
* Shellshock (n.) Tor 1987 [SS]
* Hot-Rock Rumble and The Double Take (co) Gryphon Books 1995
   # • The Double Take [Shell Scott] • nv Manhunt Jul ’53
   # • Hot-Rock Rumble [Shell Scott] • nv Manhunt Jun ’53


* Pattern for Murder (n.) Graphic 1952. Also published as: The Scrambled Yeggs, as by Richard S. Prather. Gold Medal, 1958. [SS]
* Dragnet: Case No. 561 (n.) Pocket Books 1956 [TV tie-in]


* The Peddler (Lion, 1952, pb) Reprinted as by Richard Prather: Gold Medal, 1963.

   I’ve omitted some of Mr. Prather’s stories that haven’t appeared in any of the various collections. I’ll have to add those later. It’s quite a list of fiction even without them. Many of these books I have not read in over 50 years, and the plots are mostly gone from memory – not all: no one who’s read Strip for Murder will ever forget what went on in that one – but not the days at the paperback rack at the local supermarket.


   I’ll close up this tribute for tonight with a review of the Scott Scott mini-epic which I read most recently. It’s from November 2002:

RICHARD S. PRATHER – Way of a Wanton

Gold Medal 497; c.1952; 4th GM printing, July 1957

   Prather was not one of the Gold Medal authors Gorman mentioned in the book before this one [a book entitled Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?] — Sam McCain seems to have been primarily a Harry Whittington fan — but the Shell Scott books are very much a part of my high school memories. Not that I remember actually reading one, straight through, from beginning to end, but — ah — the good parts, those I remember.

   This particular one, the inimitable private eye’s sixth, gets Shell involved with the movie business. There is a small but not insignificant body of work that mixes gumshoes with starlets, and this one’s a good addition to the group. Invited to a rather raucous Hollywood party — you might even call it wanton — Prather does — Shell breaks up the gathering when he retrieves a dead female body from the pool.

   Those at the party — all of whom are suspects — are working on a Grade B jungle epic, which means lots of good-looking women in skimpy costumes, and Shell outdoes himself in leering and ogling and all-around having a good time.

   And so does the reader. Back in the 1950s, this was hot stuff. According the cover, over 10 million Prather books had been sold. Much to my surprise, however, I have to tell you that Mr. Scott is a fraud. Given two skinny-dipping opportunities, confronted with ladies already disrobed or on their way so, Shell Scott hems and haws and gulps and swallows, and man — he stalls. Just like all of the adolescent kids reading the books. A lot of talk and imagination, and not nearly as much action as they’d like to let on.

   Prather has a nice way with words, though, in a purely soft-boiled vein, and the detective work is at least adequate, even though Shell has to admit, with 14 pages to go, that he’d “narrowed it down to the world.” Back in the 50s, however, to repeat a phrase, nobody read these books for the feats of detection they contained, and they still don’t today.


COMMENT [02-18-07]: From an email from Bill Pronzini:

   I hadn’t heard about Prather until your e-mail. Not unexpected, at his age, but sad news nonetheless. Shell Scott was my favorite character is an impressionable kid, and like you, Prather was the writer who turned me on to the pleasures of other Gold Medal original writers — John D., Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, etc. I must have reread WAY OF WANTON and my all-time favorite Shell Scott, STRIP FOR MURDER, half a dozen times as a teenager. The novels don’t quite hold up for me now, but I can still derive a chuckle and considerable enjoyment from some scenes and such passages as “You’re won’t believe this, boss, but that rock just shot me in the ass!” (THE COCKEYED CORPSE).