Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Dennis Tafoya and Richard S. Prather keep it fresh


Some days the USPS knows just what to do. Monday's delivery brought an advance reading copy of Dennis Tafoya's The Poor Boy's Game and a package from a friend that included Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott novel Gat Heat.

I would not normally associate Tafoya's harrowing urban trips with Prather's light-hearted, action-packed hedonism, but early, brief glimpses suggest that each provides an answer to that favorite Detectives Beyond Borders question, How do authors keep their material fresh?

I've twice heard Tafoya read from The Poor Boy's Game, and this brief exposure suggests that he reinvigorates that old standby in which a character takes a drug- or alcohol-addled, barely-in-control trip through a dangerous urban environment, usually streets, bars, or both. I'll know more once I read the novel, but in the portions he read, Tafoya is emotionally invested in the character taking the trip. And that saves the scene from cliché, that and the sheer weight of the character's dissipation.

In Prather's case, the convention the author reinvigorates and pokes fun at is one he had made his own: that of the over-the-top description of usually pneumatically endowed women. This bit of Always Leave 'em Dying will serve as a fair example:
"...she'd just turned twenty one, but had obviously signaled for the turn a long time ago.... she wore a V-necked white blouse as if she were the gal who'd invented cleavage.”
That's why the opening of Gat Heat is so much fun. The book appeared in 1967, when the Shell Scott franchise had been around for more than fifteen years. Prather, presumably, had to strike a balance among giving the readers what they had come to expect, making each book different enough from what had gone before to keep the readers buying, and maintaining his own interest in a character who had been around a long time.

Readers of Gat Heat who knew their Prather and their Shell Scott must have delighted in such lines as: "You could say she was so thin she had to wear a fat girdle" and "Her complexion was the delicate tint of poisoned limeade."  They could enjoy the lines for their own sake, they could enjoy the fun Prather had at his own expense. And the lines work as references to the author's more familiar descriptions. Prather's usual descriptions are present by their absence.

So much for theorizing. How do your favorite crime writers reinvigorate conventions that in lesser hands might have seemed stale?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

Labels: , ,

10 Comments:

Blogger RJR said...

ff the top of my head I remember laughing at a scene where a woman picks Shell's gun out of his holster, and he calls her a "pick holster."

RJR

February 13, 2014  
Blogger R.T. said...

With every Morse novel, at the end, I as a reader think -- My God, given Morse's world-weary cynicism, can he possibly go on any longer? But, with consummate skill, Colin Dexter would make each succeeding novel better than the earlier novel(s). Yet, at the end of each succeeding novel, I would wonder again about Morse's ability to go on. Dexter never failed to make each novel fresh and new -- until he killed Morse off. Then I was really, really pissed off! And, alas, this was not to be a Reichenbach Falls scenario. Not even Morse could be resurrected.

Finally, there is this: I can reread Morse novels over and over again, and -- for some strange reasons (owing mostly to Dexter's great skills) -- I find something new to savor.

BTW, on another subject, stop by my blog now and then. For example, among other features, tomorrow is my "Weekly Reader" book review day. (I think tomorrow will feature Indridason.)

February 13, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RJR, Shell Scott managed to maintain his cheerful outlook even when he was being pick-holstered. Come to think of it, that sense of fun is probably the character's defining characteristic, the womanizing just a part of it.

February 13, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I've read only Last Bus to Woodstock, the first Morse novel, though Colin Dexter was a guest of honor at one of the Crimefest conventions I attended in Bristol.

I had your blog on my blog roll for a while, but I took it off after you took the site down. I am glad to know it's back up. Post a link here.

February 13, 2014  
Blogger R.T. said...

http://acommonplacefromeastrod.blogspot.com/

February 13, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I have added http://acommonplacefromeastrod.blogspot.com/ to my blog roll.

February 13, 2014  
Blogger R.T. said...

Peter, perhaps the Morse novels are not your cup of tea. But even though I get no kickback from Colin Dexter for doing so, I enthusiastically make this recommendation to every reader of crime/detective/mystery fiction: Read ALL the Morse novels!!!

February 13, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I have nothing to say against Last Bus to Woodstock. I certainly don't remember not liking the book. And your partiality to Colin Dexter need not make you fear being accused of taking kickbacks. He is much lived and, I think, much respected as well.

February 13, 2014  
Blogger Linda Pendleton said...

Richard Prather not only had a great sense of humor, but gave it to his character, Shell Scott. Reminded by your blog post that he's been gone 7 years today, Feb. 14.

February 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks! I can't think of Cads or tomatoes without thinking of Prather or Scott.

February 14, 2014  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home