The first Jerry Goff book I read, a few months back, was Thrill Crazy, a Merit title, and here I thought: Wow, another cool find. Then I read Wanton Wench! which was better and Tropic of Carla which was an okay men’s adventure style yarn.
A reader of this blog mentioned that Goff had been sued by Richard Prather for plagarizing from a Shell Scott novel, and then bookseller and vintage paperback scholar Lynn Munroe told me the case just wasn’t one book, but a whole lot of them. In fact, Munroe’s Fall 1997 auction catalogue was for Goff books that were hard to find because the U.S. Court ordered all offending copies destroyed.
Munroe was kind enough to send me a copy of that old catalgue for research’s sake, that gives the whole nitty-gritty.
Basically, it began with Hotel Hustler, the novel I will discuss in this blog entry. Someone told Richard Prather there were plagarized sections from three of Prather’s Shell Scotts: Find This Woman, Strip for Murder, and The Wailing Frail.
Prather read Hotel Hustler, got wide-eyed and angry, and called his lawyer. Tracking down info wasn’t easy — Playtime Books was an imprint of Neva Books out of Las Vegas — but the address was a mail drop for an outfit actually in Florida (they had learned from the mistakes made by Nightstand and Faber about addresses and the feds); plus Jerry Lane was not a real person, but the pen name of Merit Books/Camerarts author Jerry M. Goff, Jr., a real name. A ceased and desist letter was sent to Neva and ignored — the novel remained in print and two more Lane books were issued, also with plagarized sections. Munroe writes:
Prather, who now lives in Arizona and is still writing, told me he never met Jerry Goff. When Prather’s lawyers tracked him down, he was in prison, a three-time convicted felon. In his sworn deposition, Goff admitted to being such a huge “fan” of Prather’s books that yes, he would on occasion borrow ideas and dialog from Parther’s books. And then, to Prather’s lawyer’s shock and surprise, Goff proceeded to name for them some 30 books he had done so in, most of them published by a company neither Prather [n]or his lawyers had ever heard of, Merit Books of Chicago. This led to a second, larger lawsuit in The US District Court for Northern Illinois in 1972 [...] the Judge in the trial would later say that Prather v. Camerarts Publishing was the largest case of plagarism he had ever heard about. (Lynn Munroe Books List 37, p. 3)
In some cases, Goff only “borrowed” phrases and paragraphs, but, with many of Goff’s books in hand, many reprinted with new titles a year after first publication, as Camerarts was known to do,
Prather and his wife spent hours at home with a box of Goff’s paperbacks, reading them and highlighting familiar passages. To their amazement they found not just phrases but entire paragraphs, entire chapters, entire plotlines, lifted in whole from Prather’s books, with only the character’s names changed. Prather found one Goff book about a lusty French female spy named Julie Odlie. Something about Julie was so familiar to him, but what was it? Prather had never created such a character. Finally, as he read on, it hit him — Julie was Shell Scott, and Goff had only changed the character’s sex. (ibid)
In the end, after appeals, both Neva and Camerarts had to pay damages — about $17, 500K for Neva and $40K for Merit Books (plagarism cases have set amounts these days, I think the ceiling s now $120K per cause of action).
I have no information on Goff, other than his demise in the late 1990s. What was he in prison for? Did Camerarts, with its mob connections, go after him to pay that $40K back? Did they, like Neva, know he was lifting from Prather? Did Goff publish other books later under a different name?
And does this mean the Goff books I liked were really Prather novels I liked? According to Munroe’s catalogue, Thrill Crazy (reprinted as Lisa) stole from Strip for Murder, Way of a Wanton, and Three’s A Shroud. Wanton Wench! and Tropic of Carla are not listed — but if not taken from Prather, were they lifting from other books? Did Goff do any original material at all; were the Prather liftings done when the well was dry?
And does this change my mind about Goff being a nice vintage find? Well, he is still a find — but in a much different light. When Munroe was auctioning some Goff/Lane books, they seemed to be rarities because the court ordered all remaining copies destroyed. Now, however, you can find most of these books in the $5-20 price range, ad I have about 20 of them, which I will get to all eventually.
Hotel Hustler is a short novel, about 35,000 words, about a card shark on the run from both the mob and the feds. He travels around the world, steals a new identity, then someone inherits an old hotel, the Dorado Oasis, from a long lost uncle on the small West Indies island, Callerie — a fictional place, it seems, where the natives speak Creole and were once ruled by Napoleon, just like Haiti.
He thinks this is the perfect place to hide from those who either want to murder him or put him in federal lock up for tax evasion — fix the hotel up, make it profitable, live his days out on the small island as a small businessman.
Not so easy. A fellow named Ahogary (allegory?) has been using every means he can to push out and buy up all the small storefrnts, fishing boats, and eateries in center town, to build his own little business and crime empire. Ahogary wants the hotel — which seems worthless since it seldom has guests — and the land it’s on. The plot becomes a cat and mouse game between the narrator and Ahogary, who did not count on his competition having street smarts and knowing how to bluff and con.
Toss in some islander native sex and you got an “adult” novel.
While this one is not as good as, say, Wanton Wench!, the writing is smoother more confident — but is this Prather’s doing or Goff’s? The novel reads like a cross-between wanting to imitate the atmosphere of Casablanca and the intrigue of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.
I’d give it a C-plus overall, but a B-minus for being a part of vintage paperback history, the impetus for the court system’s biggest copyright infringement case at the time.
Also: Goff as criminal. A real hood, or crook, writing books about hoods and crooks, even if all the prose ain’t his — Goff was no pale weasel writer pretending at tough men’s fiction…in some way he was living it, even as he stole from Shell Scott.