The Way You Die Tonight by Robert J Randisi
The Way You Die Tonight by Robert J Randisi (Severn House, 2013) is the ninth Rat Pack Mystery featuring the fictitious Eddie Gianelli — a man who’s completely at home in Las Vegas of the 1960s — and, not surprisingly, walk-on and cameo roles for the usual cast of Rat Pack characters. This time around the stalwarts are joined by Edward G Robinson and Howard Hughes. The series therefore fits into a rather pleasing historical mystery cum PI style with almost every page featuring some snippet of detail about the music or movie industry of the time set against a background of casino life. This time, people are starting to talk about a proposed movie called The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen, Edward G Robinson and Ann-Margaret. Some of the supposedly smart money thinks Robinson is over the hill and a film about poker will never make money. Others are not so sure. The book then hinges on Eddie showing Edward G around the Vegas poker scene so he can get into character for the movie. In the meantime, our hero foils an attempt to rob a high-stakes game and gets asked to call a PI who represents Howard Hughes. Once we find out what Hughes seems to want, we’re distracted by the death of Helen Simms, the woman who worked as secretary to Jack Entratter, the boss of the Sands. Eddie’s first reaction to the “crime scene” is that we’re looking at a murder and not a suicide. He’s therefore not surprised when his enemy on the police force announces his verdict as suicide.
This means Eddie picks up a commission from the Sands to find out who killed Helen. Even though she was more or less universally disliked, she was family and the Sands looks after its own. With the arrival of Jerry Epstein from Brooklyn to supply the muscle and the help of long-time friend and now a local PI, Danny Bardini, to add his experience as an investigator, we’re off on a chase around Vegas to work out who might have had motive and opportunity to kill Helen. This proves to be illuminating as we delve into the first signs of drug dealing coming to Vegas and see a slightly seamy side with a sex club with “vague” mob connections. The innocence of the era waiting to be punctured is beautifully caught. The fact no-one thinks the distribution of drugs that serious a problem even though the mob is beginning to take an interest in building the market is revealing. Indeed, several of the characters prefer sex as their drug of choice, remaining benignly indifferent to the offer of heroin and other substances in their immediate environment.
Showing some callous indifference to the potential damage to others, Eddie and his team did not call in the police or immediately do anything to disrupt the small trade in drugs. They are happy to let everyone find his or her own poison and take it. Their way of relaxing is to consume vast quantities of food and alcohol and, if necessary, beating people to get answers or taking lumps from people asking them questions. They can fit in a show with Dean Martin or one of the other Pack members but that’s really only an excuse to eat and drink some more before, during, and after the singing. In the midst of all the excitement, Edward G Robinson gets to learn all he needs about how to play poker. He may lose money in the process but, if you’ve seen the resulting film, it was money well spent. Eddie also wins points with the dealing staff at the Sands because they get to meet with the movie star. Indeed, there’s every sign Eddie will be promoted to a new role as a kind of super concierge or host to the celebrities and whales now coming to gamble at the Sands and wanting other services thrown in. Meanwhile Howard Hughes is doing the preliminary reconnoitre for the big move into Vegas which occurred in 1966. Eddie gets to meet the man and also experience some degree of pain because he’s less than inclined to help the eccentric billionaire to make his first purchase. Hughes was not a man who liked anyone to say “no”.
In the end, Eddie solves the murder case and makes a friend in the local police force. The reason I like this type of book is the wonderfully easy reading experience. It’s jam-packed with fascinating historical factoids and fictionalised encounters between well-known people, but this is never overdone. The Way You Die Tonight just comes out as a highly entertaining, albeit slightly lightweight, mystery with a richly imagined historical overlay.
For another review of a book by Robert J Randisi, see You Make Me Feel So Dead.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.