Re: RARA-AVIS: Recent reads

Date: 19 Jul 2001

Re Doug Bassett's comment on the Shell Scott series:

> Now reading Prather's KUBLA KHAN CAPER. I've decided
> the Shell Scotts are very hit-or-miss, but this
> looks
> to be one of the good ones.

It seems to me that last February or March, James Reasoner commented on a Scott book, and mentioned Shell's unusually friendly relationship with the LAPD.
 (I know I was out of the loop then, but I still occasionally looked in on the Archives). He compared Shell's friendship with Homicide Captain Phil Samson to Mike Shayne's with Miami Police Chief Will Gentry.

Being a Shayne veteran himself, Mr. Reasoner's comparison with the Shayne/Gentry relationship is understandable, but I think a better analogy (and the one Prather probably wanted his readers to subliminally make) was Mike Hammer's close friendship with Captain Pat Chambers. The two cop characters share a rank, captain, a position, commander of homicide, and have similar sounding names. I think Prather conceived of Scott as a lighter-hearted West Coast version of Hammer. It's worth noting that, like Scott, Hammer always had good, personal relations with the police. His problems were with the pettifogging official institutions of law enforcement, rarely with the individual people in the who served those institutions.

However, it's quite true, as Mr. Reasoner points out, that Prather's sympathetic portrayal of the police is somewhat unusual in PI fiction. I think this might stem, at least partly, from a work-for-hire gig Prather had in the mid-50s.

Under his pseudonym of "David Knight," Prather wrote the first of a three-novel trilogy based on the popular, pioneering police procedural TV show
*Dragnet* for Pocket Books (the other two novels were written by Richard Deming). The book, entitled *Case 561*, had Joe Friday and his partner tracking a cop killer. The real-life case from which Prather derived his plot, by the way, was the same one used for the pre-*Dragnet* movie *He Walked by Night*, which featured a young radio actor named Jack Webb in a supporting role, and which gave that young actor the idea for a radio show that authentically depicted police work.

Anyway, I think Prather probably came to develop a great respect and admiration for the LAPD as a result of the research he did for the *Dragnet* novel. Although pre-*Case 561* Scott books were never unsympathetic to cops, post-*Case 561* entries always seemed to be particularly cop-friendly.


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