Be it because my brain is so focused on various worries or because I use up all my reading neurons on news, I currently have very little interest in perusing for pleasure. Add to this that I typically don’t like serious stuff or conflict or stress or Nazis or the earth moving closer to the sun but wait it was a dream and it’s actually moving farther from the sun, well, there ain’t a whole lotta words I wanna interact with right now.
But one genre that has stood by me throughout good times and bad is the less-than-hardboiled detective book. And my favorite purveyor of said genre is Richard S. Prather.
Shell Scott is everything you could want in a detective: physically imposing, young yet experienced, able to outfight your average thug, possessing a tendency to do what’s right and sporting a flair for the fairer s-e-x. He drinks hard, lusts freely and displays a wide streak of goofiness. And while many fictional detectives have an antagonistic relationship with local police, Shell often works with the law.
Prather wrote most of the Shell Scott mysteries in the 1950s and 60s, overlapping James Bond, Mike Hammer and many other spies and detectives. As one might expect, the morés and attitudes of the day permeate the prose, so there’s something to offend everyone I reckon. However, it’s the prose that makes this series stand out.
According to thrillingdetective.com, the Scott stories were “…smirky, outlandish, innuendo-laden, occasionally alcohol-fueled, off-the-wall tours-de-farce that, depending on your point of view, were either a real hoot, or a lot of adolescent, sexist swill and hackwork.” And I am in total agreement with this viewpoint. Fortunately for me, I frequent the adolescent section of the maturity scale, making me the target audience for Prather’s wordsmithing.
But what better way to see what Shell Scott is about than reading a few pithy quotes? First up is a taste of grit:
“The sudden sight of the girl so messily dead had shocked me, and I guess I let my guard down. The hiss of the slug near my head and the crack of the gun seemed simultaneous.”
~ from The Kubla Khan Caper
Characters we have previously met frequently die in these tales. Try not to become too attached. Yet the tone is often silly. Scott does not think highly of thugs and he lets the audience know it:
“He had the look of a cat who would wear monogrammed shorts. Or even silk underwear with his whole name printed on it. And maybe his picture. A picture of him in his shorts.”
~ from The Meandering Corpse
But the floweriest prose generally focuses on descriptions of women:
“She smiled like a woman getting chewed on the neck by Pan. It was a nice smile. I liked it. It went in my eyes and reamed out my arteries and steamed my blood and opened up half a dozen glands like cooked lotus blossoms.”
~ from Kill Me Tomorrow
And those descriptions can become downright bizarre:
“… she didn’t wear one of those bosom contraptions, either – like lifters, expanders, separators, elevators, pushers, poochers, upmashers, tiptilters, squeezers, and aprilfoolers – that have come along since plain old brassieres went out of style, and that are so adorable you almost want to leave the gal home and take her contraption out dancing.”
~ from The Meandering Corpse
I guarantee you won’t find that particular sentence anywhere else in literature.
Everett Public Library has a variety of Shell Scott mysteries available as electronic downloads. Perhaps they are just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart in difficult times. I know I’m going to get back to reading one as soon as I do some research on bosom contraptions.