I was just appalled to realize that it has been 4 months since I posted here. So, to make up (somewhat) for lost time, I thought I'd post reviews of 3 books I read recently that were written by Robert Randisi.
About the author: Robert Randisi styles himself as a modern-day pulpwriter, and I think this characterization is accurate: he is incredibly prolific, and has a great knack for fast-paced story-telling. He is most noted for writing westerns (particularly the long-running Gunsmith series, under the name "J.R. Roberts") and detective novels. I'm going to review 3 of his books here -- two private eye novels, and one western. Lets take them chronologically in terms of the history timeframe of each narrative:
Premise: Liz Archer, a relatively naive and sheltered young woman, finds herself gradually transformed into a gunfighter in the Old West when she loses her fiance and her parents to a family of desperados.
Story: Liz Archer loses her fiance when he is killed in a gunfight with a member of the Nolan family. She confronts that Nolan, and kills him. The Nolans take revenge by killing her family, but leave her alive. Big mistake. The novel follows her pursuit of revenge, which leads her to 3 different teachers who give her schooling in skills that she will need if she is going to succeed in taking on the remaining Nolans in the town which they control.
- Did I mention pace? Randisi knows how to engage a reader, and keep them turning the pages.
- Characterization: although this is a secondary consideration after plot, Randisi works in enough subtlety and nuance into the characters that many of them become appealing, if flawed, personalities. Even the villians are permitted some commendable traits.
- One character seems to be clearly based on the protagonist of Randisi's "Gunsmith" series -- the charcter's personality, skills, and occupation are identical to those of the "Gunsmith's" protagonist at this time. The only major difference is that this character has a different name. I have to wonder if this was originally meant to be a crossover, and Randisi was forced to change the name of this character before it went to press.
- Liz goes through a series of 3 informal tutorials, with 3 different "teachers", that school her in the use of a gun, feminine wiles, and sexuality to attain her goals. I was a little disappointed when, in this 3rd section, she becomes a prostitute to further her aims -- but, realistically, besides the role of mother or school teacher, there were few other job opportunities for women. That said, I thought that some of the sex scenes, though not entirely gratuitous since she uses her sexual allure to control men and get information, went on a bit too long, and diminished the pace of the storytelling.
- This series, like many "adult" westerns, compromises suspension of disbelief by failing to account for the dangers of STDs and unintended pregnancy which went along with that profession. The characters seem to exist in a fantasy era in which sex, although an important aspect of the story, is utterly without consequences.
- That said, both of these are pretty much to be expected, given the genre expectations for so-called "adult" westerns at the time this was published
if you don't mind some lengthy passages devoted to descriptions of sex acts, this is a fun book, with appealing characters, and an engaging pace. For a pulpy "adult" western, the characters were pleasantly nuanced, shaded, and credible.
Conclusion: Recommended, subject to the provisos above. Truth be told, I'm tempted to purchase and start reading the second story in this series very shortly.
Premise: The time: 1911 The place: New York City. Bat Masterson has left behind the Wild West, and being a lawman, for a more congenial and seemingly more secure position as a sportswriters. Until a good friend of his, a fellow sportswriter, disappears under suspicious circumstances. He enlists the help of another sportwriter to help him with his inquiries -- a promising young gent by the name of ..... Damon Runyon.
Story: Masterson and Runyon end up semi-officially setting up as private investigators, trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of their friend, Inkpot Jones. This investigation ends up leading them to not only confront the leaders of contemporary organized crime in New York city, but also the mentally disturbed head of Tammany Hall. For having retired from the dangers and rigors of being a lawman, Masterson finds himself endangered from several quarters for his pursuit of the truth.
- Historical accuracy: I'm not an expert in this era, but many of the references to events of the time, prominent locations and personalities proved to be reasonably accurate when I read up on them. The bulk of the story is, of course, fiction but Randisi is to be given credit for folding in a good deal of actual history into this story.
- OK ... I have to use that word again: pace! Randisi knows how to tell a good story that kept me turning the pages.
- Bat Masterson and Damon Runyon were, actually, friends in real life. In fact, Damon Runyon based the character "Sky Masterson", in his book "Guys and Dolls" (which later became the source for the Broadway play and the movie) on Bat Masterson. It was entertaining to see the real friendship between these two important historical figures portrayed in what is, effectively, a private eye thriller
- The resolution of one major plot thread relied on a major coincidence to resolve the conflict and let Masterson and Runyon off the hook
Assessment: An entertaining story that also works in some nice historical and social background.
Premise: The year: 1960. The place: Las Vegas. Eddie Gianelli, happily engaged in his work as a pit boss at the Sands, is peripherally aware that the Rat Pack is in town, staying at his casino, spending their days filming Oceans 11 and their nights performing on stage -- that is, until Joey Bishop comes to him, and tells him that he needs Gianelli to do a favor for him, but doing a favor .... for a friend....
Story: ... and that friend is none other than Frank Sinatra. Frank is concerned about death threats that have been sent to Dean Martin. Martin doesn't think there is anything to them, and refuses to call on the police. Frank Sinatra needs someone who is well-connected in Vegas to look into the matter, and he's heard word that Eddie G. is one of the best connected people going ....
- OK .... I gotta use this word again: pace! Randisi knows how to tell a compelling and engaging story.
- Characterization: the fictional characters are more than the usual cardboard cutouts -- they each have engaging nuances to their characters. From what I've read about the real-life personalities, Randisi has done a pretty good job of conveying what they were like at that time.
- Again, I wasn't that familiar with this era when I started reading this novel, but when I looked up info about some of the personalities portrayed here, I was pleasantly pleased to discover that there was some historical basis for what real-life personalities where around at this time, and place, and how they interacted with each other. (I had no idea that Judith Campbell Exnor was Frank Sinatra's mistress before she became Kennedy's mistress, for instance).
- Over-reliance on coincidence:
- When Gianelli comes across first one, then a second, murdered showgirl, the location of one of the victims leads him to believe that this is connected to the Dean Martin death threats (spoilers)
- A crucial, climatic, confrontation is resolved by the intervention of one of the Rat Pack members when he just happens (spoiler)
Assessment: I dislike the reliance on coincidence to resolve not one, but two, important points of the story. But, as with the other examples, this is an engaging, entertaining story
Overall: None of this is great literature. You will not be profoundly moved. Your worldview will not be shifted. But if you are looking for some pleasant escapist entertainment, it will definitely fill the bill. And, given the historical setting of two of these novels, you might end up learning something as well! I know I did!