The Peddler

The Peddler



The Pequod Review:

Despite his enormous popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, Richard S. Prather's private eye novels featuring the ex-Marine Shell Scott have been out of print for decades. On the surface it is not hard to see why. His plots take bizarre and implausible turns. His prose is full of bad jokes and crudely sexualized references ("She’d just turned 21, but had obviously signaled for the turn a long time ago"). And most of his characters spend a lot of time with their clothes off.

But the books are unique for the genre, as they feature a private investigator (Shell Scott) who actually enjoys his work. This gives the novels an exuberant energy, one that is a refreshing change of pace from the dour settings of traditional noirs. And Prather's prose is full of mischievous fun; here for example is the opening to one of Prather’s short stories (as cited by Donald Westlake in The Getaway Car):

You take a plane from the States and head south; a few hours later and up more than seven thousand feet, where the air is thin and clear, you land at Mexico City, and take a cab to the Hipodromo de las Americas, where the horses run sideways, backwards, and occasionally around the seven-furlong track, and you go out to the paddock area after the fourth race.

You see a big, young, husky, unhandsome character with a Mexico City tan, short, prematurely white hair sticking up in the air like the head of a clipped whiskbroom, and his arms around the waists of two lovely young gals who look like Latin screen stars, and you say, "Geez, look at the slob with the two tomatoes."

That's me, I am the slob with the two tomatoes, and the hell with you.

Five days ago I'd left Los Angeles....

The Peddler is one of Prather's early non-Shell Scott novels, the coming-of-age story of a poor but ambitious teenager who seeks to make his fortune in the prostitution industry. He succeeds, but at great personal cost.