The Case of the Vanishing Beauty

This is the 23rd in my series of Friday Forgotten Books

by Richard S. Prather, Gold Medal, 1950 paperback, mystery (hard-boiled)
first Shell Scott

“She looked hotter than a welder’s torch and much, much more interesting.”

Los Angeles private eye Shell Scott is on a strange case. Georgia Martin has hired him to take her out to dinner at El Cuchillo, a restaurant in downtown L.A. She won’t tell him more except that her sister Tracy is missing. Scott is wondering why they are eating Mexican food when he ought to be trying to track the sister down when the stage show starts. It’s a knife-throwing act featuring the beautiful Lina. Scott goes on for several pages about how gorgeous she is, but “luscious tomato!” will give you the idea. That she is wearing skin-tight short shorts and a bolero top with nothing under it is good reason for his eyes to follow her every move as the knife thrower hurls his narrow blades at her.

After the show Scott and Georgia leave the club, but they don’t get far before Scott sees that he’s picked up a tail. Moments later the car pulls alongside and shots are fired. By the time he manages to pull over, Georgia Martin is dead, leaving a lot of unanswered questions.

I’d heard a lot about the Shell Scott books back when I read this one, my first and the first in the series. I think the first in the series is always a good place to start. This one is a little more serious and traditional than the later books, as the series progresses it becomes more and more “screwball”. I don’t mind.

I heard someone say he could imagine a Shell Scott TV series starring Jim Carry (as a blonde, I guess) in the role. Well, I can’t stand Jim Carey, find his brand of humor silly and am convinced his rubber-faced stuff was done better and funnier by Red Skelton decades ago. I have a low tolerance for  “silly” or “cutsie” avoid it when I can. Point? I liked this book, and I’ve liked the other books in the series I’ve read, even if – especially later in the series – they sometimes do get a little, shall we say, fanciful.

I figure when I read that I start out by accepting the author’s premise, whatever it may be, and once I do that, I read the rest of the book within that reality. I don’t worry that “if this were today, he couldn’t get away with that” because it’s not supposed to be “today” So I accept that Shell Scott is a single, apparently fairly well-off private eye in LA in 1950, driving a yellow Cadillac convertible and smoking and drinking and chasing women. Fine. Sounds like fun, if you ask me. I accept that his best friend is a big wheel at Homicide, so he can get away with a lot and get cop help when he needs it. Hell, this is supposed to be fun and that’s what it is.

Try this, you’ll like it. The next in the series are Bodies in Bedlam and Everybody Had A Gun.

Note: due to my ongoing reorganization (see previous posts) it was a real chore to pull my copy of this to scan the cover, but an image search didn’t find this cover elsewhere. After a good deal of clambering about – and a couple dozen other books tumbled to the floor – I claimed it from the back half of the shelf on which it was double-shelved. I wish I could do away with double shelving, but sadly I can’t envision that day.

~  ~  ~  ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more FFB reviews at her own blog,
and a complete list of today’s participating blogs.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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24 Responses to The Case of the Vanishing Beauty

  1. I have this very copy myself and am a Shell fan. I think it was one of these books that I first heard women referred to as tomatoes.

    All of them I’ve read were fun I hope to get to them all some day. But you know how that goes. Just not enough time.

    One final note: I even own a copy of David Knight’s Pattern For Murder.

  2. Almost forgot. I own both versions of Pattern For Panic as well.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Jim Carrey? No chance, no way, no how.

  4. See what happens when you reorganize your collection, Rick! Stasis is my natural state.

  5. Carl V. says:

    “I figure when I read that I start out by accepting the author’s premise, whatever it may be, and once I do that, I read the rest of the book within that reality.”

    Well said, I couldn’t agree more. I would never have been able to put my thoughts this succinctly, so I’ll probably have to steal this and use it in the future! 😉

    I haven’t read Prather, though I do have a copy of The Peddler from Hard Case with a McGinnis cover. There are several of the Shell Scott books that I’ve seen in the past that have really nice covers and that of course makes me want to get my hands on them.

    I’m glad you took the time to pull out your actual book, the cover is great fun.

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    Yet another author I have yet to read.

  7. Richard says:

    Randy – I searched for cover images and found a lot of them, but none for the copy I have (the one in this post). I’m not sure if it predates one of the others, but no matter. the Pattern books are not in my library. I’ll have to fix that!

  8. Richard says:

    George – it’s a pain in the keester, but it will be worth it when I’m done. Just a reminder, no Saturday Soundtrack tomorrow. I’m close but not done with the CDs. I added threee more (empty as of this minute) shelves yesterday. They will get filled later in the day. After I’d have more coffee.

  9. Richard says:

    Jeff – we agree!!

    Carl – You ought to try a Shell Scott. I might have a duplicate or two. If I do (can’t look now), shall I send you one?

  10. Richard says:

    Patti – every well-read mystery fan needs to have read one or a few Shell Scott novels, and also a few Mike Shane novels.

  11. Bill Crider says:

    I have that one, too, Rick. Good old Shell!

  12. Richard says:

    But how long since you read one, BIll?

    This copy is, of all things, an ex-library copy, but in surprisingly good condition, that I picked up at Lessercon (the paperback show, for those who don’t know of it) a few years back.

    I’ll be going again this year, I think, with a list…

  13. Drongo says:

    Could have sworn I saw this review posted here about 12 hours ago.

    Humor is pretty subjective, and Shell Scott leaves me mostly cold. Still, I can understand the appeal of Shell. He did have fun.

    Prather wrote a couple of non-Scott novels, LIE DOWN, KILLER, and as Carl mentioned, THE PEDDLER. Both are good, with the former being quite moody.

  14. Evan Lewis says:

    Pretty sure I have this somewhere, but can’t remember reading it. Will look. I’m pretty much obsessive about starting a series with the first book or not at all.

    I have a couple of Mike Shayne stories in Black Mask from 1944 and ’45. Anyone know if these were actually written by Dresser?

  15. Richard says:

    Drongo, you are sharp as a tack. I put this together last evening and on the final edit went to click “Save Draft” and instead clicked on “Publish”. So it went up, for about five minutes until I realized what had happened, when I pulled it back through the post scheduler. It was then supposed to pop at 5:01 a.m. PST, but that didn’t happen either through another error (lack of a zero). So it finally went up around 6:00 this morning.

    Shell has a lot less fun in this first entry in the series than later. I’ve not read the non-Scott books. Heck, I haven’t even gotten through all of these, though I’m pretty close.

  16. Richard says:

    Evan – Don’t mistake me for an expert, but it’s my understanding that Davis Dresser wrote the Shane books and stories until 1958, then beginning with Fit to Kill “Brett Halliday” became a house name used by several authors, the bulk written by Robert Terrall, with some written by Ryerson Johnson and Dennis Lynds.

  17. Richard says:

    And while we’re talking of Shayne, I’m on the lookout for a copy of The Private Practice of Michael Shayne (1940) if anyone has several laying about…

  18. Chris says:

    I figure when I read that I start out by accepting the author’s premise, whatever it may be, and once I do that, I read the rest of the book within that reality.

    Love that line. Put me down as one who agrees with you 100%. It is like a quote I saw from Michael Moorcock:

    “We don’t, after all, read these stories for information or moral understanding, but for escapism. Thus we enter into a pact with the author, in which we suspend all disbelief or we suspend none!”

    My problem with these “forgotten books” is every review I read I learn of another book I WANT to read. My TBR pile is too high as it is!

  19. Richard says:

    Thanks, Chris. I didn’t remember that Moorcock quote, but it’s certainly appropriate.

  20. Todd Mason says:

    And, like Mike Shayne, Shell Scott “had” his own (sadly shortlived) magazine from Renown Publications…I always considered Prather the truest (if less insane) heir of Robert Leslie Bellem…Michael Avallone got to be the Harry Stephen Keeler heir…

  21. Richard says:

    Both magazines I never read… I always preferred my mystery fiction in book (even if short story) form. Perhaps a personal failing, but then I’d have all that much more to store someplace.

    I’d not thought of Prather as a Bellem successor, but I can kinda see it. Not as frantic, nor do we find the colorful and extravagant use of slang, but there are indeed elements…

    I won’t touch the Avallone – Keeler line, that’s for better minds than mine to debate, if indeed debate is called for.

  22. Carl V. says:

    The answer is “yes”, I’d love that! Thank you.

    I feel like I’m learning a new language reading the comments, its great!

  23. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Back in my early teen years I read a bunch of Shell Scotts, as well as the Burns Bannion books by Earl Norman.

    It’s been a long time since I read either of them.

  24. Richard says:

    Jeff M -it’s fun to take one of these out and read it every so often. It reminds me of simpler times, and points out current writers often over-write their books, lengthen them, and achieve pretty much the same effect.

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