Saturday, April 27, 2013

Strip For Murder by Richard S. Prather


So there comes a day when you’re at a flea market or you wander into some antique shop. You feel comfortable because everything you look at is older than you. To make it better, the men are all out of shape, even the younger ones, and you know they’re not contenders. You browse for awhile and thumb through some old Marvel comics, maybe some Gil Kane Green Lanterns. You hesitate when you see the vinyl record collections for sale, and you remember the scratchy sound in the grooves and how quickly we had all mastered the act of flipping it over after the A side finished. Keep the party going, flip the album, make some noise. But that was all a long time ago; that was before computers and the endless parade of imbeciles posting snarky comments on the Internet; before the digital newsroom jumped at every chance to promote some disaster; before the bombs and the genocides captured by cell phones, pocket cameras and the Big Brother surveillance lens. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens, but it was our time, and a lot of it is worth remembering. Then those paperbacks catch your eye. You remember the spinning wire racks in Drug Stores and Convenience Stores; the rack squeaking as you eyed the colorful covers. Pulp paperbacks. Ace, Signet, Daw, Gold Medal, Fawcett Crest, Popular Library, Pocket Books. All ranging from under a buck to a buck seventy-five. You remember this stuff with fondness. Stuff like Strip For Murder by Richard S. Prather. Seven printings by 1964. It was all tongue in cheek, implausible, but truly entertaining. You flip it over and read the blurb on the back cover. “The gorgeous tomato met me at the gate, and every time she breathed I nearly went mad. She was really stripped for action....The gorgeous tomato led me up a path that opened onto a big grassy lawn – and then my teeth began to rattle. Migawd, there were hundreds of them, capering joyfully around on the green. I’d been hired to find a killer in a nudist colony, and I was going to look pretty damned silly wearing nothing but my gun!” When you thumb the pages you smell the pulp and dust and the lingering scent of some long forgotten reader’s life. For a moment you feel like a character from The Twilight Zone who had turned a corner to find himself at some point in the past. Detective Shell Scott was long gone, but here he was again. Six feet two inches tall and weighing in at 205 lbs., his short white hair bristled like an albino porcupine. The nick in his left ear a souvenir from a dead hood. His creator, Richard Prather, was a contemporary and friend of Mack Bolan creator Don Pendleton. Those were the days. This edition of Strip For Murder is in better shape than the other copy in your collection. The sign says ten books for a dollar. You fill a paper bag with books, and when you leave you smile to yourself. This has been a good day. You’re rich in pulp.

2 comments:

  1. Fine post. I know exactly what you mean. Many times I'm tempted to try to shut out everything else and just pretend it's 1964 again.

    STRIP FOR MURDER is my favorite Shell Scott novel and has one of the funniest scenes I've ever read in it. If you haven't read it yet, you'll know what I'm talking about when you come to it.

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  2. Thanks for your comments James. Prather is one of my favorites as well. I love the way he blends humor and action in this one.

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