RICHARD S. PRATHER – Over Her Dear Body.

Gold Medal s887; paperback original. First printing, June 1959. Reprinted many times.

   [As a brief preface, this is the book I read immediately following Hyde and Seek, by Benjamin Wolff, and reviewed here by me earlier on the blog.]

PRATHER Over Her Dear Body

   Two books in a row, and in both a private eye (or someone playing at being a private eye) is hired by a girl (a knockout, of course) to help her brother, who has been working at some secret deals, making a lot of money, then either (1) disappearing, or (2) starting to worry for his life.

   Coincidences happen, but it’s still a little scary.

   Actually all it really says is that there is a shortage of private eye plots to go around. So, I thought, we’ll let the veteran Mr. Prather show the new guy how it’s done. After all, hadn’t he already sold over 21,000,000 Shell Scott books by the time this was published? (Information taken at face value from the front cover.)

   Isn’t he the guy with the built-in leer in his typewriter? Books full of tomatoes, bikinis, nudist camps and other highly unlikely spots for one of the toughest private eyes in the business to find business in? (Information from reading but a small fraction of the above-mentioned 21,000,000 books — which is all it takes. Really.)

   Unfortunately and in all honesty, this wasn’t one of Mr. Prather’s better efforts. There are no drug smugglers, no South American generals, no semi-benevolent order of Christian missionaries — only a single gang of crooks whose only task is to wipe out Shell Scott before he wanders onto the truth. And of course they don’t. End of story.

   If the plot of Hyde and Seek ended up far too complicated — and with too many loose ends — to be believable, not to mention sour-tasting (or maybe I did — say something along those lines, I mean), the trail Shell Scott follows in this book is as straight as a string.

   The tomatoes are delicious, though.

— From Mystery.File 1, January 1987 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 12-12-08.   The following paragraph, again only slightly revised, was actually the first paragraph of the next review to appear in that issue of Mystery.File 1. As you can see, reviewer’s remorse was already setting in:

PRATHER Over Her Dear Body

    “Lest you misunderstood, let me hasten to add that I found the Prather book easier — more fun — to read than the one by Wolff. In spite of a simplistic plot and some rather obvious padding, Prather knows how not to take himself too seriously, and how to entice the reader into keeping the pages turning. After all, 21 million books cannot be wrong.”

   And keep in mind that the cover blurb where I found that figure was from a book published in 1959. Prather’s career continued with Gold Medal up to 1964 when he switched to Pocket, where he stayed until 1975. Two further books came out from Tor in 1985-86, both Shell Scott books, but by that time interest in wacky PI novels had diminished greatly, and neither of them seemed to attract much notice.

   I’ll refer you to the Thrilling Detective website for more on both Shell Scott and his creator, Richard S. Prather, along with a complete bibliography and a small selection of covers. And if you want even more, here it is: