Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pattern for Panic - Richard S. Prather

In less than thirty seconds a cute little gal came in: mine. She was at most a couple of inches over five feet tall, which is a foot shorter than I am, but she had as many dangerous curves as the road to Acapulco. The curves were distributed on a foundation which couldn't quite be called plump, but would never get her a job in the States as a high-fashion model. Which was fine with me. She was dressed in a snug-fitting green satin housecoat, and high-heeled pumps. I guessed her age at maybe twenty, and like many Mexican women she had, in addition to those other dandy things, a healthy mass of black hair and hot dark eyes. 

Fawcett Gold Medal, 1961
Yup, that's our pal Shell Scott, Private Eye on the road to Acapulco by way of a cutie in a house of ill-repute. Exactly how he got there makes for one of the more entertaining vintage private eye novels I've read in a long while.

One can always rely on Richard S. Prather to deliver a breezy, sex and violence filled caper, and Pattern For Panic is no exception. First published in 1954 and later revised for publication in 1961 this is classic Shell Scott. This time he's down in Mexico City, in way over his head with bad guys and dangerous dames thanks to a blackmail plot that leads to a kidnapped scientist, a crooked cop, a bevy of communist spies and a kinky communist ringmaster who gets his kicks from torture.

This novel pretty much covers the bases if you're looking for some dandy pulp action to fill a rainy weekend. Shell is in Mexico City staying at the Hotel del Prado, on a little R 'n R with his local Mexican pal Amador Montalba, when he meets fellow Americans, Dr. Jerrold Buffington, his daughter Buff (yes, I pictured Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buff) and their traveling companion Monique Durand. Monique and Buff are a classic pair of bookend babes, one dark and sultry (Monique) and the other (Buff) blond and girl-next-door. The good doctor Buffington is in town to deliver a lecture on some latest medical research he's doing. They're all enjoying cocktails in the hotel Bar Nicte-Ha when a sleazy ladykiller starts laying some unwanted attention on Buff. Shell Scott decides enough is enough and offers the creep a choice of keeping all his teeth by leaving the bar, or staying and dining on a knuckle sandwich. The creep takes the hint and leaves. Moments later, a cigarette girl whom Shell Scott has had a randy eye on, delivers a note from the creep to Buff, laying out in explicate detail just what the creep would like to do with Buff as soon as her gringo boyfriend splits the scene. Well, that's all it takes for Shell Scott, knight errant to decide that our Latin Lover needs a good old fashioned ass-whipping. Fists fly, teeth rattle and in no time flat, Shell is jumped by a handful of Mexico City cops who seemed to have arrived at an awfully convenient time. He manages to knock a couple of teeth out of one over-zealous cop before getting hauled off to the clink for fighting and having in his possession a pack of marijuana cigarettes, The same pack that Scott had earlier purchased from the cigarette girl. And sure enough, the creep who started the whole thing has disappeared.

Cooling his heels in jail, Shell figures he's in for a long night, when his pal Amador shows up to offer him a job for a Countess Lopez. It seems the Countess has enough pull, thanks to her husband General Lopez, to spring Shell Scott from jail, as long as he does her a little favor in return. The Countess is being blackmailed for a set of provocative photographs and a dirty film of her in action with a secret lover. The Countess would like the film and pix returned to her toot-sweet without her husband, General Lopez, ever finding out. Because, man, if the General finds out about this film of his wife with another man...!Ay Chihuahua!  (Yes, they actually utter that expression in this book!)

Scott eagerly takes the case and barely an hour goes by before he discovers that Doctor Buffington and his daughter Buff have been kidnapped. Shell learns that Buffington had accidentally discovered a nerve agent that, in the slightest doses, could literally send its victim into fits of deadly terror. It seems that certain enemies of the free world would like to get their hands on this nerve agent. Scott also learns that General Lopez has been the target of communist spies that are trying to gain power through nefarious means in Mexico City. Could the blackmail, and the kidnapping, and Scott's frame-up job all be linked? You bet your burrito they could! And all this leads to some hard-boiled hi-jinx that keeps Shell busy for the next 150 pages!

If you haven't read a Shell Scott novel before, then do yourself a favor and grab one. They're probably easy enough to get if you look in the used bookstores. If not, many are available for e-readers. Just know going in that you're in for some campy doses of sexist humor along with your bullets and bad guys.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like fun and I'm making a note of the title. Haven't read any of his books yet--doubtless a major gap in my pulp education! Have a happy new year...