Monday, October 20, 2014

Heard: "Way of a Wanton" by Richard S. Prather

Heard: Way of a Wanton by Richard S. Prather, 1952, download production by Books In Motion in 2012.

I read a Hard Case Crime reprint of Prather's The Peddler. I was reluctant to try a Scott novel because I already knew there are a ton of them and I hate to jump into the middle of the series. The cover artwork stinks, too.

Fifth novel in the series. Hollywood, CA based P.I. Scott is invited one evening to a small party by Scott's movie industry pal. The small party is for the cast and crew of a low budget jungle flick.  There are big busted babes, a producer or two, a muscled-up lead actor, and Shell.  This is supposed to be a pool party so one busty and fun-filled gal strips her top off and jumps into the pool. Busty-babe bursts the bawdy boozed up bash by bemoaning the body on the pool's bottom.

Shell dives in to investigate, he is an investigator after all.  Shell finds a strangled woman weighed down in the water.  Shell wants to call the cops. The rest if the party goers say no way. Shell even slugs the muscle-up actor who tries to stop Shell.  The cops arrive. Shell takes an actress back to his place. Shell gets the actress on his bed when the phone rings. The guy on the line is the film's main backer and offers Shell big bucks to come talk about the murder and take on the case. Shell takes the man's offer, accepts payment as a percentage of the film's earnings, and starts snooping.

The murdered woman worked for the film studio. The main backer wants to make sure he does not lose his money. The producer cannot go over budget or he loses money to the main backer.  Right off the bat someone follows Shell, shoots at him, and then tries to kill him by dropping a spot light on Shell at the movie studio.

Shell talks to a roommate of the dead woman. The woman is mugged in her home and Shell is shot at when he goes to rescue her.  Shell has sex with the roommate. Shell goes to a location shoot. Shell has sex with another actress by a nearby lake. Shell is shot at as he swims in the nude. Shell escapes and streaks onto the set while escaping.

Shell figures things out and rescues an actress.

1. Not hard-boiled. Not angsty.  Shell loves to look at the ladies and drink plenty of booze. There is some slapstick action along with the sex and violence.
2. I wonder what the history is of these kinds of man novels. I think Max Allan Collins wrote a book on the topic, or maybe that was pulp magazines.  I presume the modern, post-war version started with Mike Hammer and then took a spy-guy turn with James Bond.
3. Thrilling Detective has a brief write-up on the Shell Scott series. I'll read it later.
4.  I suppose this style of novel hit a peak with Coyote Connection (1981). Everything before and after that masterpiece must be a complete let-down.
5. One of things I enjoyed is the characters describing and denigrating Hollywood and the Hollywood script mill.  Writers are a cheap commodity and everyone takes a shot at the screenplay until it's a pile of mush.


Rick Robinson said...

I've read a dozen or two of these, and unless you were exaggerating, there is more seduction in this one than any I've come across. Scott does get beat up, he does womanize, most often less successfully, he does his drinks, but the plot usually holds up and the humor is enjoyable, especially in light of the time and setting. Too bad you disliked this one so much.

Gerard Saylor said...

I did enjoy the novel. I enjoyed the sex and drinking parts. But I still think the cover artwork stinks. My notes don't always reflect my full opinion, I tend to record plot for my own use.

It's a lighthearted read, Shell enjoys life. He was a wiseacre and I enjoyed the quips. I presume the success of the series is due to the character of Scott and not the mystery and plot. that's okay, Scott is interesting and has interesting observations.

I should mention that I think the narration was uneven. The narrator's pace was too slow but he had a gruff voice that fits the PI genre.

Rick Robinson said...

I'll agree with you there, Gerald. My paperback of this one is the 1956 3rd printing, and it has what appears to be a really old painting of a PI and a bobby soxer holding hands, sort of. I admit it's a rotten cover. The later covers, including some by, I think, McGuiness were better.