Robert J. Randisi
Bob Randisi has written more published novels than we can count, but the tally is somewhere north of five hundred. Besides his many mysteries, Randisi has made his mark in the adult western market. Under the pen name "J.R. Roberts," he is the creator and author of the long-running Gunsmith series.
His private eye novel The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie gained a Shamus nomination. He has edited numerous anthologies, including The Shamus Winners, Crime Square, and Hollywood and Crime.
In 1982, Bob Randisi founded the Private Eye Writers of America, of which he remains executive director. A native of Brooklyn, he lives with his wife, the writer Marthayn Pelegrimas (co-author with Robert of the Gil and Claire Hunt mysteries), in Nevada.
That's where we caught up with Robert for the following exchange: Q.: We understand you're new to the fiction-writing gig. When was your first story published?
A.: Indeed, I only started in this business with a short story, “Murder Among Witches,” in a 1973 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and ghosted two novels in 1979 before my own first book, The Disappearance of Penny, was published in 1980. It has recently been reissued.
Q.: There's a tremendous range in your work, mysteries, westerns, horror. But there's also tremendous range in the material within each genre. Many of the stories in The Guilt Edge involve horse-racing. Yet My Father's Badge couldn't be more a New York crime novel. You had an early series about a retired prize-fighter turned PI. You and Christine Matthews wrote a trilogy that included a New Orleans segment. There are New York cops transplanted to St. Louis. And Rat Packers in Vegas. Each book is alive with local and professional lore. How did all these interests develop?
A.: Things do develop as you get older, as you move from place to place, meet person by person. I was born in Brooklyn, worked for the NYPD there for eight years before quitting to write full time. I’ve lived in Florida and St. Louis, and now live in Laughlin, Nevada. I was married for 21 years, divorced, and have now been living with Christine Matthews—also a writer—for 28 years. It all intersects in my mind.
Joe Keough was a New York cop in his first book, Alone With the Dead. I then moved to St. Louis, and so did Joe for the “Arch” series of books, which have now been reissued. I’ve written about three private eyes who worked in New York—Henry Po, Nick Delvecchio and Miles Jacoby, the ex-boxer. (I was in the ring for one-and-a-half rounds, and I won by TKO.) Gil and Claire Hunt also lived in St. Louis, but New Orleans is a city I love, so we set one book there. I then did a hit man trilogy set in New Orleans. Currently, I’m working on the third in a PI trilogy set in Manhattan, and a third set in Nashville. And, of course, the Rat Pack books are set in 1960s Vegas. I love them and that city. Every place I write about I have either lived in or visited. As I said, it all converge in my mind, which is a fertile, jumbled place to be.
Q.: You've also been a tireless anthologist, with Hollywood and Crime and Crime Square among others. Will there be more "neighborhood" anthologies?
A.: At the moment, no, unless we decide to do another here at Perfect Crime. I did plan to do one about San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Q.: You founded the Private Eye Writers of America. What prompted that?
A.: In 1981 I became dissatisfied with the attention private eye books were getting. You had to be Robert B. Parker to get any attention and, thankfully, there was only one of him. So I decided to gather together a group of PI writers to exchange ideas. I wanted to elevate the PI story from a sub-genre of the mystery to a genre all its own. I think with PWA and the Shamus Award, I’ve managed to do that. The organization and award are now 40 years old.
Q.: Perfect Crime has published two collections of stories that won that group's Shamus award. What's the outlook for the private-eye genre? Does it need a reboot? Are there new voices?
A.: There are many new voices in the private eye genre, taking it to places it hasn’t been before. For every Max Collins and Bill Pronzini there is a Matt Coyle and Kristin Lepionka—to name two recent Shamus winners. And rather than ride the clichés, they are paying tribute to them, while taking the PI story to new heights.