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Case of The Vanishing Beauty(1950)

Pattern For Murder91952) as by David Knight

Pattern For Panic(1954) Cliff Morgan version

As a young man, when I reached that grown-up age of eighteen, working and going to school, I had a little more free money and being a reader, I was always on the lookout for interesting books. The Shell Scott novels were a wonderful discovery I made in the late sixties near the last published one. Only a handful more were put out into the seventies.

My little town had no bookstores, new or used, back then(or today for that matter), the only source of reading material were several drugstores, and one dime store. They had the usual magazine racks and a couple of spinner racks for paperbacks and comics.
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I don’t remember the first Shell Scott I bought(what with new and reprints of the older novels, I read maybe fifteen of them. I loved them all. Here was a private eye that had interesting adventures and, for a very young male, gorgeous women that managed to lose their clothes quite often. The books never filled in a lot of details(I had my juvenile mind to take care of that), but they were simply fun to read. These novels are where I learned a tomato could be something other than a fat piece of fruit.

Shell keeps tropical fish both at home and in his office. He drives a sky blue Cadillac(in the early novels, I’ve discovered, he drives a 1941 canary yellow caddy). A veteran of World War II, it’s where he got his broken nose.  As with most continuing characters, he stays eternally thirty, so the WWII aspect wasn’t mentioned in the later novels I read( as best I remember).

And packed away somewhere in the house are all nine issues of the Shell Scott Mystery Magazine. They featured Shell novelettes and other short stories in digest form.

CASE OF THE VANISHING BEAUTY was the first published Shell Scott novel. In that one, Georgia Martin hires a reluctant Scott to be her “escort” and help her look for her missing sister, Tracy.

Later the first night, a hail of bullets hit the car and, in her dying breath, Georgia says, “I killed…Narda…” Narda is a leader of a small religious cult, but upon investigating, Shell finds him still alive. Odd.

Now he’s trying to find out what’s going on, not to mention finding the still missing Tracy.

PATTERN FOR MURDER was actually the first written Scott novel, under the title THE MADDERN CAPER, and was placed with the Scott Meredith agency, who shopped it around. Before it was published, Prather had four more Scott novels put out by Fawcett-Gold Medal.prather-2

Things must have been different back then. I can’t imagine a publisher today allowing a different company put out a book with their series character. All he did then was put David Knight as the author(it was later published by Gold Medal as THE SCRAMBLED YEGGS).

In this one, Shell is hired to investigate the hit and run death of Joe Brooks(aka Maddern). He learns there is number of recent hit and run deaths, more than statistically probable. Apparently, someone has an unusual method of death-for-hire.

Technically, I haven’t read the Shell Scott novel, PATTERN FOR PANIC. The one I read feature a redheaded Cliff Morgan as the Private investigator.

How that happened is Fawcett was reluctant to publish it as a Shell Scott because of it’s anti-Communist rhetoric. Mickey Spillane’s ONE LONELY NIGHT had just recieved a critical pasting for for it’s four square lambasting of Communism.

Prather simply changed  the hair color to red and the name to Cliff Morgan and sold it as a standalone(I have spot read the Scott version and found it pretty much the same book. There was a profanity that Morgan uttered that Shell didn’t, but other than that the same).

The book was a huge success and Fawcett then asked for it back, a few years later republishing the original manuscript.

This was the least satisfying of these three novels. I guess it was a product of it’s time.1954, the Joe McCarthy era, the height of anti-communism. A Commie under every tree. I just found Shell’s virulent hatred of Communism a bit off-putting. I have no great love for that form of government, mind you, it just didn’t seem to fit Shell’s happy-go-lucky personality.

Shell, while in Mexico on a case, gets set up and winds up in jail. He’s bailed out by a General’s wife, who wants her indescretions kept hidden. It’s all a Communist plot to take over the government.

The first two are recommended whole heartedly, the third reluctantly(it is a Shell Scott after all).

There is one more Scott/not Scott novel I want to find. DAGGER OF FLESH was another Scott novel Fawcett originally turned down and the character became Mark Logan. Later, after a change of mind, the original Shell Scott manuscript was put out by Fawcett. From what I’ve learned in research,  Falcon rewrote parts of their manuscript, much to Prather”s dismay. So, if I can track down copies of both versions, I’ll have to read them both to see the differences