Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Robert J. Randisi and the Nashville PI Series

The first time I read a Robert J. Randisi story was in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. It's probably the best anthology the late and very much missed Ed Gorman assembled, and should be part of your collection. Gorman included Randisi's "A Matter of Ethics", and the first line grabs you by the neck:

"I got mugged on the way to meet a potential client."

If you have the power to stop reading after that, you're stronger than I will ever be. It's just one example of Randisi's straight-to-the-point writing style that has earned him so many fans and made The Gunsmith, which he writes under the name of J.R. Roberts,  the longest-running adult western series in the history of the genre.

And the good news is, he has another book out!

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie takes place in Nashville, in the heart of music city, where session player Auggie Valez gets in over his head by taking a job that seems harmless at first, but, of course, quickly turns deadly.... 

How's this for an opening: Corkey Barnes told everyone who would listen that he was a "Major Country Music Producer." It wasn't a lie. He was, and he liked everybody to know it as soon as possible.

I don't know about you, but I need to keep reading.... Corkey has snake written all over him....

Robert agreed to a sit down at the pool hall and we chatted while sipping some very good bourbon while we chatted about his career and The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie.

Brian Drake: You've attained legendary status in the mystery and western community. 670 books--and counting! 30 anthologies. Mystery Scene. American Crime Writers League, the Private Eye Writers of America, the Shamus Award.  Incredible--when do you sleep? When did the writing bug bite, and is telling stories still as exciting today as it was when you began?

Robert J. Randisi: I got bit when I was 15. Started by writing a Man From UNCLE manuscript (Man meets Girl from UNCLE). Put it in a drawer, wrote a private eye novel, put it in a drawer. Then started writing short stories. Also saw Paul Newman in HARPER, which convinced me that I wanted to write for a living.  By the time I was 30. And I did it.

BD: Let's talk about The Gunsmith, your adult western series that's still going strong. [The history of The Gunsmith is well-documented elsewhere, so we aren't going into that here.] Has continuing the series series since leaving Berkeley been a challenge? I see Gunsmith titles from Piccadilly, Pro Se, etc.--has that made it difficult to remain consistently available to readers?

RJR: I was able to continue The Gunsmith after all the other series died because I made sure I owned it. The others were house owned. And yes, it’s been difficult making it consistently available. Piccadilly would only do ebook editions, but going with them was the only way I could be sure there was no lag between Book 399 and Book 400. I wanted to keep it coming out monthly. Then I had to find somebody to do hard copies of the books. Pro Se stepped up, but it was too difficult.  I finally placed it with Speaking Volumes, who is doing both hard and ebook editions. But we’re still trying to find all those readers who lost us when we left Berkley.

BD: You've recently spun off Lady Gunsmith from the series. How did that come about?

RJR: LADY GUNSMITH was going to be done 35 years ago by Charter Books before Berkley bought them.  Berkley canned the idea. I uncannily—cannily?--waited for the time to be right to bring the idea back.

BD: What is it about the western genre that keeps it relevant? Where do you see the genre heading over the next ten years?

RJR: It’s history. History is always relevant. The fact that we can elaborate on it, exaggerate it doesn’t change the basics of it.  Private eye, Spy, even Science Fiction genres have to change with the times. Westerns don’t. Westerns are Westerns—basically.  But everybody has to put their own twist on it, and for the future we’ll all keep trying to find ways to do that.

BD: Miles Jacoby, one of your private detective characters, is back in print from Wolfpack. Tell us a little about him.

RJR: Jacoby was a middleweight boxer who worked part time for a private eye. When he had enough time in, he applied for his own license and quit fighting.  Throughout the course of the 6 books, he’s learning to run his own business. I’m toying with the idea of continuing the series for Wolfpack, jumping ahead the 20 or so years that have gone by since the last one.  

BD: You've written about other PI characters, too, including Nick Delvecchio. If Nick and Mike Hammer got the same lead on a case, who would solve it first?

RJR: Hammer. He’s tougher, smarter, older and more experienced. And if I said Nick, my friend Max Collins would tear me a new one.

BD: Hahaha ... Max Allan Collins has visited this blog many times and even leaves a comment once in a blue moon, so I'm sure he'll get a chuckle out of that. How has the private eye genre changed during your tenure, and where do you see it going in the future? Is there even still a place for the private eye?

RJR: There will always be a place for the private eye—in my heart, if nowhere else.  As with the Western genre, writers have been putting their own stamp on the genre since my first book came out in 1980.  He—and she—have changed with the times. Methods change, laws change, new laws are passed. All that has to be taken into consideration, unless you’re going to write period pieces. At the moment I’m getting back into the P.I. field, doing a new series for Wolfpack and a new series for Down & Out Books.  The locales are different, the experience level and ages of the protagonists are different, but the devotion to the conventions—not cliches—of the genre are the same.

BD: Along with The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, you also have some other titles coming up.

RJR: One is The Headstone Detective Agency, set in New York, about a 50 year old P.I. who gets his license back after serving time and has to start over. The other is set in Nashville and features a P.I. who is also a guitar player and song writer. The first book—THE BIG HOSS HONKY TONK BOOGIE--came out several years ago, was nominated for a Shamus for Best Paperback, then the publisher folded. Now I’m getting a chance to bring it back with Wolfpack. The second book is called THE LAST SWEET SONG OF HAMMER DYLAN.

I’m still writing Gunsmith and Lady Gunsmith. A few years ago I wrote what I think is my best book, MCKENNA’S HOUSE, for Crossroads Publishing. I’d like to do more. I’m also going to do more traditional westerns.

BD: Thanks for the chat, Robert. 

Click here to find Robert's Amazon page. He has so many titles available, you will never lack for a good read.