Everybody Had A Gun by Richard S. Prather © 1951, my copy Gold Medal 1954 paperback, mystery – hardboiled, 3rd in Shell Scott series
I’ve read more than a few of Prather’s Shell Scott books, and enjoyed them, some more than others, but all of them at least for the entertainment they give. Not all of the plots are solid, some have a lot of humor in them, others not so much. That seems to depend on where the book is in the series, the early books – such as this one – have more violence and less laughs, but that’s fine.
The covers got better not too long after this one, too, as a matter of fact, this is probably my least favorite cover of the Prather books I have. But I wanted to read one early in the series, and I hadn’t gotten around to this one yet, so here it is.
Shell Scott is a private investigator. He spent time in the Marines during World War II, he’s tough, he knows his business. He has a “sorta friend” in L.A. Homicide, so he can get away with quite a bit, and in this novel he does, and more. Because in this novel, the title says it all: everybody does have a gun. Oh, one thing about the cover: that’s not Shell Scott beating up on the girl. The bad guy is doing it to make Scott talk.
The book opens with Scott shot at. He doesn’t know who’s shooting or why, but he ducks around a corner, pulls out his gun and peeks out. A woman sees him and shrieks. Someone else shouts “He’s got a gun!” The shooter is long gone.
Thinking about it later, he concludes one of the two crime bosses in the city – the established one and the newer guy trying to take over a patch – may have a grudge against him. That suspicion is confirmed when he’s grabbed and shoved into a car, taken to “see the boss”, Marty Sader, who thinks Scott is working for his enemy, Breen. It’s not true, but once someone believes something it’s awfully hard to convince them otherwise.
While all that was happening, Scott had also gotten slightly mixed up with Iris Gordon, who had come to him for help, then fled when she saw one of Sader’s men. Iris works at Sader’s club, The Pit. She doesn’t want him to know she visited Scott’s office.
If this sounds screwy so far, it gets worse, or better, depending on your opinion. There’s a turf war in Los Angeles, and Scott, and Iris, are in the middle of it, and everybody has a gun. They use them. Shooting on the first page, shooting just three pages from the end, and a lot of it in between. If it’s gunplay you like in your hard-boiled PI novels, then gunplay you’ve got in this one.
There’s not as much humor, gags and light wordplay in this one as you’ll find later in the series, and there are some pretty long scenes of the “Gimme the info”, “I don’t have it” variety, but at 157 pages it goes right along. Is there sex in the book? No. Is there Fifties-style innuendo? Absolutely, but not a lot and not over the top. I had enough fun reading this that I’ll pull another off the shelf in a month or two.