You Make Me Feel So Dead by Robert J Randisi
You Make Me Feel So Dead by Robert J Randisi (Severn House, 2013) A Rat Pack Mystery (the eighth if you like counting things). As the title to the series tells you, this is set in Las Vegas in May 1964 at a time when the Mob was reputed to be making the transition to legitimate gambling and big stars were helping to make the brand image of the city more appealing. This is the story of Eddie Gianelli who works for Jack Entratter at the Sands, one of the larger casinos. He’s a kind of super concierge, able to find and deliver goods and services that elude others. The word is Elvis is coming to town to promote Viva Las Vegas and do a few shows at the Riviera. It seems he’s proposing to bring the Memphis Mafia who, according to Colonel Parker, are leading his “boy” astray. Frank Sinatra asks our hero to babysit Elvis to keep him out of trouble. The Colonel is staying out at Lake Meade so Elvis won’t know he’s following him (except Elvis is all too aware of the Colonel’s tactics). After Eddie talks to the Colonel, he agrees to take the job (for free). To put himself in the mood, Eddie accepts an invitation to Graceland which is the predictable madhouse. But as is required in books like this, his best friend Danny Bardini also asks him for a favour. He’s worried about Penny O’Grady, his secretary. They love each other but have’t admitted it yet. This is going to divide his time, so Danny gets roped in to help chaperone Elvis. The final piece of the puzzle is Jerry Epstein. In technical terms, he’s a torpedo with Mob connections. With him on board, ain’t no-one gonna pull no funny business. Except, during his first day on the job, Jerry gets arrested and charged with murder. Turns out he was covering for Penny who found a body. With no evidence against him, Jerry walks and now the chase is on to find the killer.
In many ways, this is my kind of book. It’s not in the slightest pretentious although it does name-drop shamelessly. This is a WYSIWYG novel. The prose is highly efficient. Nothing stands between the reader and the story. For those without big name recognition, there are quick character sketches and then it’s on with the action which comes thick and fast with a pleasingly deadpan humour. As in the older style detective or PI novels, this is relatively short by modern standards. All that means is that the author avoids bloating out the text for the sake of producing length. You get just as much story as in longer novels but without all that mass of detail to slow you down. When you have such a lot going on, all you want is to get into the action and watch how it all plays out. It’s only fair to point out some people have labelled the author as the last of the pulp writers as if that’s a bad thing. Obviously I grew up through the pulp era and have read most of the Golden Age pulp writers. It’s true this author has adopted many of the good habits those writers had. And it should be said there are older authors still writing who more genuinely are pulp writers. Robert J Randisi is nowwhere near the last man standing.
In this case, Eddie has a nice problem to solve. It turns out the dead man had been shot with Danny’s gun, but Danny swears on a stack of Bibles that he had the gun with him all day. So if we assume Danny is innocent (series characters tend not to go round killing people and getting locked up), how did the real killer make the shot. Or have the police been a little naughty and faked the evidence to make Danny look like the killer. It’s puzzles like this that make caper-style PI novels such fun to read. The answer is elegantly simple and turns on the fallibility of memory. Divers other crimes are committed and some are solved to the satisfaction of the police and other interested parties. Elvis gets into the thick of the action as you would expect of a man with military training and no common sense. Both Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin get good cameo slots and make essential contributions to the resolution of the case. Put the whole package together and You Make Me Feel So Dead is great entertainment.
For a review of another book by Robert J Randisi, see The Way You Die Tonight.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.