Mystery writer Robert J. Randisi is bringing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack back to life - repeatedly.
By Kristin Baird Rattini
Frank Sinatra was a prolific musician who recorded hundreds of songs on dozens of albums over the course of several decades. But Ol' Blue Eyes had nothing on author Robert J. Randisi. Randisi, who is also the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), has practically been his own book-of- the-month club - he's published at least one book a month, every month, since 1982.
That makes this month's release, Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die: A Rat Pack Mystery (St. Martin's Minotaur, $24), his 445th published work. It's also the second installment of his already critically acclaimed Rat Pack Mysteries. Set in 1960s Las Vegas, the book follows Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and crew as trouble follows them. We followed Randisi to his Clarksville, Missouri, home to find out about the PWA and the original Eee-O Eleven album.
Here's what Robert J. Randisi says about his four favorite mystery books (besides his own, of course).
The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, Ross Thomas, 1970: "A fascinating study of the political machine in a small, southern town, it takes a much deeper look at the background of its main character, Lucifer Dye - one of my favorite character names of all time."
Enquiry, Dick Francis, 1969: "This is early Francis, but he's at his best. It's the story of a steeplechase jockey - Francis was a steeplechase jockey - who is disqualifi ed from a race and then becomes the subject of an enquiry . He has to prove that he was framed in order to save his career."
Forty Words for Sorrow, Giles Blunt, 2001: "This is the fi rst in a series to feature detective John Cardinal. It's one of the most powerful introductions to a series I've ever read."
The Barbed-Wire Kiss, Wallace Stroby, 2003: "This introduces private eye Harry Rane and has one of the freshest PI voices I've heard - read - in years."
At the time, a lot of good writing was going unnoticed and unrewarded when it came to awards like the Edgar. It was that simple. We needed our own identity.
The charter members were people like Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Sara Paretsky, Stuart Kaminsky. The organization is small … but it has been invaluable to the genre - which was not a genre when I first founded PWA. There are more PI writers than ever and more excellent writers writing PI fiction.
Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime is one of your most successful books. Why do you think the Rat Pack still holds such tremendous popular appeal?
I think after the Beatles, the Rat Pack is a group that men want to be like and women want to be with. Also, I believe that their level of "cool" is timeless.
The first Rat Pack Mystery was set during the filming of Ocean's Eleven. Where does Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die pick up?
Six months later, at the opening of Ocean's Eleven, which is taking place in Vegas at the Fremont Theatre. This time, Dean gets ahold of Eddie G. [the series's main character] to help out Frank. The last time, it was the other way around. Frank is worried about some girl in Vegas who is missing. They end up getting involved with the mob and Sam Giancana.
Your previous mystery series are based in New York and St. Louis. Did you enjoy packing your bags for a new literary destination?
I was looking for something different to do - other than a private-eye or police procedural. I love the Rat Pack and Vegas. It just all came together one night while I was watching the HBO movie The Rat Pack. I came up with the idea of the main character as a pit boss working at the Sands whom the Rat Pack turns to for help. The voice was a 1960s pulp-writery voice. I had just received a review in Booklist that said I may be the last of the pulp writers. I liked that. I wanted to write a book for which we could use that quote on the cover. So it took off from there.