Friday, February 16, 2007

Another Giant Falls

It was just a month ago that I touted an online interview with 85-year-old Richard S. Prather, who was best known for having created Hollywood gumshoe Shell Scott, introduced in the 1950 novel Case of the Vanishing Beauty. And now comes the sad news that Prather has passed away at his home in Sedona, Arizona. I have to admit that I wasn’t a huge Shell Scott fan, though I did buy a first edition of Kill Me Tomorrow (1969) during the Left Coast Crime convention held two weekends ago in Seattle. However, the death of any author who was as influential in this genre as Prather (The Thrilling Detective Web Site notes that Scott was “the second most commercially successful private eye of the fifties [over forty million books sold].”) is deserving of recognition and regret.

Although Prather hadn’t seen a new book of his published since Shellshock (1987), Hard Case Crime last year reissued his 1952 standalone, The Peddler (which originally appeared under his pseudonym “Douglas Ring”), and interviewer Linda Pendleton, the widow of pulp novelist Don Pendleton, noted in her recent interview with Prather that the author was sitting on an as-yet-unpublished, 1,000-page Shell Scott manuscript, The Death Gods. Between widespread rediscovery of The Peddler and E-Reads’ efforts to make the Shell Scott novels available again through electronic and print means, it seemed as if there was a Prather revival in the offing. But today’s news means that any rebirth of this novelist’s renown will be posthumous. Too late for him to enjoy.

I don’t feel qualified to eulogize over this author; but longtime writer-editor Ed Gorman has the creds necessary to do so. Therefore, I’ll defer to his judgment, quoting with permission from something he wrote earlier today on his blog:
Richard S. Prather’s death has special meaning for people my age who grew up reading paperback originals. Even kids who hated reading read Prather because he was just so damned much fun. His creation, Shell Scott, was as iconic in his way as all the hard-boiled private eyes he spoofed. Was there an L.A. lass that Shell didn’t get to eventually?

He was a better writer than he generally got credit for, every once in a while he’d slip in a Scott that was darker than the general run and he’d surprise you with how skillfully he could turn from parody to realism. ...

I talked with him several times on the phone and the conversation always got around to him leaving Gold Medal for Pocket Books and a lot more money. Or what promised to be a lot more money. Pocket could never figure out how to sell him. Remember that ridiculous male model with the ridiculous spray-painted white hair? Contrast that with the great GM illustration of a grinning Shell. Acrimony ensued. Prather sued Pocket, and his career, for all practical purposes, was over. Michael Seidman brought him back for a few Tor books, and damned good ones they were, but time had passed for the Prather approach to crime fiction.

So long, Richard. And good night, Shell.
Because illustrator Robert McGinnis drew the covers for so many of his novels over the decades (including the latest Peddler front), there might be no other more fitting tribute to Richard S. Prather’s memory than to look back at some of the old Shell Scott paperbacks, a gallery of which can be found here. For a good Prather bibliography, with covers and brief plot descriptions, refer to this page. And for those of you who’ve never read a detective Scott story, you can start tonight with “The Bloodshot Eye,” an original Prather tale published in the June 1966 issue of Shell Scott Mystery Magazine. You can download it from here.

Sheesh! First it was Mickey Spillane. Now Richard S. Prather is gone. Life’s just not fair ...

READ MORE:Obituary: Richard S. Prather (1921-2007),” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File); “Richard S. Prather, R.I.P.,” by James Reasoner (Rough Edges); “Dead Man’s Walk,” by James Reasoner (Rough Edges); “Richard S. Prather, R.I.P.,” by Bill Crider (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine); “Classic Lines,” by Lee Goldberg (A Writer’s Life).

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