Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Kubla Khan Caper - Richard S. Prather

From where I lay in lazy ease on a poolside chaise lounge, I could see a gaggle of Bikini-clad Hollywood houris squealing and splashing in the water. On the blue-tiled deck across the pool from me half a dozen bare-midriffed nautch girls wiggled, doing what comes nautchurally.

Pocket Books - 1967
Oh man, that's painful. But that's just what you'd expect from our pal Shell Scott. For anyone who doesn't know, Shell is a tough and randy Hollywood private eye who never lets a tomato escape his attention in the pursuit of solving the various "capers" he's involved in. Published in 1966 The Kubla Khan Caper is approximately the 31st appearance of Shell Scott in Richard Prather's series. I say approximately because along the way he was featured in a few collections, including Three's a Shroud and Have Gat - Will Travel. His 1st appearance was 1950 in The Case of the Vanishing Beauty and continued clear to 1987's Shellshock. He's the kind of guy who'll definitely stand out in a crowd with his white hair, white inverted V-shaped eyebrows, scar over his right eye and a bullet-clipped ear. All that and a total horndog for any lusciously curved twist, dame, tomato, skirt, babe, dish, doll, cutie, etc, who crosses his path. And believe me, cross his path they do. Which is all part of the charm of these novels. Certainly written as something of a satire of the whole paperback private-eye genre, these novels still have enough tough-guy violence and mayhem to please fans of Mickey Spillane.

Here in The Kubla Kahn Caper, Shell is hired, initially, to locate a missing beauty contestant, Jeanne Jax, for the grand opening of a desert resort named The Kubla Khan. Shell's cover is to act as a judge for the beauty contest, a job he considers himself more than qualified for. His client is Ormand Monaco, the managing director of the Kubla Khan. Monaco is adamant that Shell Scott carry out his investigation for the missing girl with the utmost discreetness, as any adverse publicity could damage what is intended to be a lavish grand opening, full of all the celebrities and dignitaries appropriate to such an event. Shell Scott is no more than an hour or so into the investigation when the missing Jeanne Jax turns up dead, gunned down in her sports car on the side of a desert road that leads from Monaco's home. Also dead is the reclusive millionaire owner of the Kubla Khan, Ephraim Sardis. It turns out that Jeanne Jax was intent on getting in touch with Ephraim Sardis about something, only someone put a stop to it by putting them both on ice. The same someone who's taken a couple wild shots at Shell Scott when he arrives on the scene in his robin's-egg blue Cadillac. Now what had been a missing person case is a murder. Monaco is promptly arrested for the killing of Jeanne Jax and insists that Shell Scott find the true murderer before the grand opening beauty pageant takes place in 24 hours. Scott's got his hands full, what with interrogating a slew of kooky contestants, a shifty hotel manager, and various assorted heavy types including a jealous-minded green giant of a man named Bull Harper.

Along the way we've got fights, make-out sessions, a two-page rant against girdles(?!), a nude foot-chase, mucho cocktail guzzling, plenty of eye candy and babes, dames, dishes, get the picture.

Up close she was all velvet and fire, skin like silken umber, the eyes still dark and almost brown, but with lots of green in them, the color of wet moss, or the sea, or emeralds in shadow. They were big and round and that look of constant surprise in them gave her an air of virginal innocence--when you looked at her eyes. But a breath below was where the virgin died and a bawd was born. 

I think these novels are a blast. Certainly they're dated and so goofy that you can't believe you're reading them, but they're also way too much fun to put one down once you start it. Most of them are now available on e-reader format, which is a good thing. More fun though is seeking out the vintage paperbacks, which are still relatively easy to come buy. Happy hunting!

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