I just read in Christa Faust's blog that Richard S. Prather, the talented author of the hugely-successful-in-their-time Shell Scott private eye novels, passed away yesterday at age 85.
There's some irony in Prather's death coming so soon after that of Mickey Spillane, for Prather was by far the most successful of those Fifties PBO authors who followed in the Mick's gigantic footsteps, angling for a slice of the rich Mike Hammer pie. In many ways, Shell Scott was a West Coast Hammer – albeit an absurdist Hammer with a ridiculously overactive libido and ribald sense of humor.
I first discovered Prather in the mid-Eighties when Tor Books attempted to launch a Shell Scott revival with a few carefully selected reprints and two, fine, new novels, The Amber Effect and Shellshock. At the time, I took my P.I. fiction pretty seriously, and I didn't quite "get" the broad humor and Prather's deft, tongue-in-cheek style, but a few years later I re-visited those books, saw the light, and soon found myself scouring used bookstores for as many Prather paperbacks as I could find. I may be slow sometimes, but I'm not stupid.
Hard Case Crime recently re-published one of Prather's non-Scott crime novels, The Peddler, and last year, Linda Pendleton (widow of The Executioner author Don Pendleton) conducted an extraordinary interview with the man – one well-worth reading – in which he revealed that there was another unpublished Shell Scott novel in his files. Maybe Hard Case can arrange to shepherd that one through to print. It would be a fitting tribute.
If you've never read one of Prather's stories, this link will take you to a Shell Scott short story that you can download. It's a good 'un.
Rest in peace, Mr. Prather... and so long, Shell.