Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cockeyed Corpse (Richard S. Prather, 1964)

Private detective Shell Scott gets an assignment to investigate whether the death of an actress on the set of an obscure nudie flick was an accident or a murder. Being bored in the hot L.A., our hero doesn't waste no time to depart to the filming location in Arizona, expecting to have a weekend of paid vacation in the company of the remaining female cast. This, of course, won't happen because we know in advance there are some hoods hanging around the ranch where the production takes place. And to make things clear to Shell (plus to make action going), two cowboys attempt to shoot him upon his arrival.

So we have a plot, but unfortunately, it doesn't exactly thicken much from here on. There's almost no mystery or suspense: bad guys try to kill Shell, and beautiful women try to seduce Shell while he tries to prevent them from being killed. And this initially interesting and a bit unusual setup of hard-boiled city gangsters and sexploitation movie-makers confined in a rural background pretty soon starts to fade out.

Weak, hard to swallow plot and pretty unbelievable twist aside, I think that book's style was what annoyed me the most about this one. It's only 140 pages long, but it doesn't move anywhere. Everything takes ages (that fucking rodeo needs ten pages to complete), and Prather spends more effort on describing trivial stuff than letting the story breathe and develop with any kind of decent pace. Also had a bit of a problem with dialogues. They are pretty lame and without some cool slang and/or cynical one-liners that one would expect from the hard-boiled PI and city hoodlums (Shell at one stage calls them sub-humans which I had found pretty funny).

Also didn't care much about our hero. He's a kind of a Mike Hammer wannabe - maybe tough enough (he kicks the shit out of the three assholes quite efficiently!) but definitely pretty pathetic at his attempts to be witty or street-wise and failing miserably as a womaniser. Check out his thoughts on four girls that were trying to seduce him:

They stuck closer together than was normal, certainly than was fair. They were going to barbecue together, to the dance together, and - I got the impression - to bed together, which was certainly a sickening impression.


I don't know. It's an unusual blend of cosy and hard-boiled crime that I guess was written for the younger audience and just hasn't aged very well. I'm sure some people love this kind of stuff, but I'm not one of them.



Shell Scott, PI

"Sun and Sage" Dude Ranch, Arizona.

Body count
8 plus "one only half live".

April, blonde Delise, redheaded Choo Choo, black-haired and black-eyed Zia.

Two of them. This is not bad for such a short novel, but it's not great for a guy who calls himself the unconscious detective. The first one is more than decent:

I don't know how it is that you can know that you've been sapped, when the fact of the matter is that a split second after being sapped you're unconscious. I guess it's just that my mind works with lightning speed - because I knew I'd been sapped.

But then (as usual) it goes on for another hefty paragraph and spoils everything. Coming out is described pretty good, too, in a classic Marlowe-ish manner:

I was climbing out of a dark, slippery hole, and soft tentacles of blackness wrapped themselves around me, holding me back.

But here, too, it just continues to go on and on. 

The second one is not as good. He simply falls off the wild horse.
The main villain stages his fake death by killing some unfortunate dude and later refers to him as the "cockeyed corpse" because his face was smashed after falling down for seventeen stories. When Shell finishes off this villain asshole, he uses the same expression for describing his final state.

Surviving girls (see 'dames' section) of "The Wild West" movie cast who is running for a cover when an attempt on April life was being made. So it's pretty accurate, except for those tree branches covering their boobs.

Cool lines:  
I knew him. I also knew the gun in his left hand, an unusual gun, a Beretta Brigadier, 9 mm. Luger.
The Brigadier is an automatic pistol which fires nine shots. In the right place, one would be enough. And he had it aimed at one of the right places.

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