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The Way You Die Tonight by Robert J Randisi

February 6, 2014 Leave a comment

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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.

Robert J Randisi

Robert J Randisi

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.

You Make Me Feel So Dead by Robert J Randisi

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.Robert J Randisi

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.

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