Case of the Vanishing Beauty
Prather is my favorite author from the paperback area of mystery fiction. Published in 1950, I was lucky enough to read a 1962, Gold Medal reprint of Prather's first Shell Scott novel.
Being a fan of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels I've always been happy to know that there are 42 Shell Scott novels waiting for me as well. Both authors had fantastic dialogue and humor in their books. I've come to look forward to Prather's opening paragraphs where he typically describes a woman.
In this book a beautiful woman comes to Scott's office asking him to find her missing sister. The story then uncovers the world of drug trafficking and cults. For a fist book this one had plenty of twists and I was surprised at just how relaxed Prather's prose came out. The book came it at 160 pages making it just the right length for a tight mystery story.
Like I said, I like Prather's style, here's an example:
She looked hotter than a welders torch and much, much more interesting.
She was in her early twenties, and tall. About five nine, and every inch of it loaded. Her lips were the dangerous red of a stop light and her eyes were the same black as the masses of black hair piled high on top of her head. She was slim, but with hips that were amply ample and high, full breasts that she was careless about but nobody else would be. Plus a flat stomach, a slim waist, and golden skin smooth as melting ice cream.
Prather was hard-boiled here's a passage that I found chilling:
After so long a time you get a little sick of violence. You see guys gasp and bleed and die, and it makes you feel a little funny, a little sick while its happening, when it's right in front of your eyes. But it isn't ever quite real when it's going on, when you're in it. Maybe a muscle man slugs you, or a torpedo takes a shot at you, or you're pulling the trigger yourself or smashing a fist into a guy's face, and you're hurting or crippling or killing some trigger-happy hood. But when it's actually happening, you've got adrenalin shooting into your blood stream, your heart pounds, your breath comes faster, pumping more oxygen into your veins. Glands and body organs start working overtime to keep you sharp, keep you alive, and you're not the same; you're not thinking like the same guy. It's all kind of blur like a picture out of focus jumping in front of your eyes, and you don't think much about what's going on, just let your reflexes take over. If the reflexes are trained right, and if you're lucky, you come out of it scared but O.K. Nothing to it; all over.
But when it is all over, when you've got time to think, that's when you get sick remembering vivid little details you hardly noticed at the time. The way a body jerked when a bullet ripped through fine skin and flesh and muscle and bone, or the way it jerked just before it stopped being a man and became what they call down at the morgue a "dead body" or the "deceased." Maybe you even wonder what kind of man he was, what he liked for breakfast, when he was born, stupid things like that - and wonder what made him get a gun in his hand and like the feel of it. Maybe you even wonder what it is that goes out of a man when 158 grains of lead drive into his brain or his heart. Maybe you get sick and your stomach turns upside down and then it's all over and you forget about it. Almost.
So to hell with it.
I ate it up. A very good book.