Re: RARA-AVIS: Another couple of GMs (maybe)

From: Al Guthrie (
Date: 15 Aug 2002


When discussing CASE OF THE PETTICOAT MURDER earlier this month Bill Crider informed us that "The book opens, as nearly every Selby/Rayder case with the discovery of a beautiful nude murder victim". LAUGHING VIRGIN begins with a twist: "The naked girl on the roof was no longer screaming. But she was trying to." The nude girl is alive.

Good start. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. I thought Craig telegraphed the procedural elements and the plot hinged on unlikely events. LAUGHING VIRGIN is also a whodunnit, which put me off even more. And, the most serious flaw: there is no tension. I haven't read a book in a long while which was as flat as this. A couple of reasons for this, I think. The viewpoint and the whodunnit aspect. The viewpoint is first person, yet the reader discovers little of consequence about the remarkably dull Pete Selby (maybe because it's not his story). And if Craig had scrapped the whodunnit in favour of telling us who the murderer was, there would at least have been some tension when Selby and the murderer were in the same room. Speaking of which...

LIE DOWN, KILLER by Richard Prather
(my copy claims to be a Gold Medal original copyright 1958, but according to abebooks Lion printed it in 1952 - Mr Crider?)

Not a Shell Scott novel. Here's the plot. One fine morning without having done anything wrong Steve Bennett is arrested for murder. The police believe he has killed his partner, Jim Clay. Steve is dumbstruck when the evidence is laid out in front of him. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to make him look guilty (the book bears more than a passing similarity to Woolrich's PHANTOM LADY). He's thrown in prison. His only hope is dashed when the girl he spent the night with refuses to provide him with an alibi. What does he do? He sets about proving his innocence. But first he has to get out of jail.

Prather could have attempted to write a mystery (a la Jonathan Craig). In fact, although most of the book is written from Steve's viewpoint (third person), Chapter Four is written from the murderer's point of view. So no mystery. The fact that the reader is aware of who's responsible for setting Steve up, just makes the whole experience even more intense. The only slight criticism I have is that Steve jumps to correct conclusions a little bit too frequently.

Previously I've noticed that Prather's fight sequences tend to be explicit and drawn out. He does it again here. One scuffle lasts for several pages. And why not? He obviously believes in doing what he's good at. And there's no doubt he's good at it. Maybe even one of the best.


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