I have been a fan of Private Investigator fiction for decades. So, it’s perplexing to me that I only discovered the work of Robert Randisi over the last three years. Randisi is the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America, who grant the Shamus Awards every year for the best in P.I. fiction. Not sure, why it took me so long to discover his work, especially given how much of it there is.
Because “founder of the PWA” is hardly Randisi’s claim to fame. He’s also been called the “last of the true pulp writers.” Since the early 80’s Randisi has published over 600 novels. Read that again…over 600 novels. Most of these are Westerns, over 400 in the Gunsmith series of Adult Westerns alone. My love for his P.I. books led me to try some of his Westerns, and in turn has re-opened this genre to me.
But back to the P.I. work.
I’m currently working my way through his Miles Jacoby series, about a retired boxer learning the ropes as a PI. Jacoby is set in New York, like Randisi’s excellent Nick Delvecchio series. This has allowed Randisi to create a shared universe for his series, where characters from the Nick and Jack series and the Henry Po book all show up throughout the various books (don’t look now, but some of characters also show up in the Gunsmith – The Show Girl novel, at least by name).
Full Contact has Miles hired by a rich Detroit businessman to find a missing daughter. He’s also trying to clear the name of his friend, and recurring character, Knock Wood Lee, who is accused of the murder of a debtor. Parallel cases that may or may not converge is a common plot structure in P.I. novels. Randisi frequently adopts it, but he doesn’t adopt a pattern as to whether the cases will converge or not. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. And I won’t spoil that for you here.
The first of the Jacoby series leaned on the boxing theme. The second, pulp magazine collections. This one, has Karate. And for that reason, it took me a while to get into it. But, as always, Randisi delivered, including a whodunnit solution that I didn’t see coming.
I’ve tried to think what it is that I find so satisfying about a Randisi read. And I’ve landed on the ease in storytelling. His prose is tight, and free of any extraneous material. Yet, it still seems free to meander. He also gets away with a lot less description than most authors can manage…again ease in storytelling. James Lee Burke, he is not. One of the interesting things to me is that I can love both authors’ work, so much. Yet, they are so different.
There are over 600 books to choose from with Randisi. I wouldn’t recommend Full Contact, as the book to start with, but it’s damn good. (For the record, I’d start with the DelVecchio series).