I was hoping to compare the sales of Richard Prather's novels those of other California writers. But I haven't been able to find the numbers. In fact, they may not exist. So let me just say this: Prather (1921-2007) sold more than 40,000,000 copies of his three dozen Shell Scott novels. That may not be as many as Erle Stanley Gardner and his Perry Mason series, but it is quite a few. The Prather/Scott website has more information on the author and his work.
Way of a Wanton by Richard S. Prather. Fawcett Gold Medal (1952), 144 pp.
Private detective Shell Scott is enjoying the scenery at a Hollywood party given by a movie director friend, Raul Evans. Others in attendance are connected with Evans's latest film, Jungle Girl. They include the worried producer, Louis Genova; the snotty writer, Oscar Swallow; the two stars, gorgeous Helen Marshall and combative Douglas King, and a trio of alluring extras. Talk no sooner turns to Swallow's missing secretary, Zoe Townsend, when the woman's stunning roommate and replacement, Lola Sherrard ("Sherry"), arrives. Scott's leering and flirting are interrupted when Zoe's body is found in the pool. When he's later hired to find the killer, Scott figures one of the party-goers must be the culprit.
Shell Scott does not share the alienation of his fellow L. A. detectives, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. As the story's narrator, he'll toss out a wry comment once in a while. But mostly his interests run to penalizing perceived insults and ogling women. Here's his first impression of Sherry: "She was cute and curvy and a highly jiggly tomato." Luckily for him his brawny good looks prove endlessly attractive to the opposite sex. The murder story itself is no more than serviceable. Early action episodes are implausible and the killer's motives are weak. The zany Tarzan sequence later in the novel suffers from a cumbersome set-up. Even so, the book offers an acceptable light read that fans of detective fiction -- male fans, anyway -- are likely to enjoy.