Will Randall (www.willrandall.co.uk) taught languages for ten years in the West Country and then decided to work in the South Pacific. Result: a travel book on his life there, Solomon Time, an experience he repeated with India, which produced Indian Summer, 2004, Africa which brought forth Botswana Time in 2005, and France (Another Long Day on the Piste, 2006). Now come his experiences with the criminal world, Limey Gumshoe, published by Abacus on 28 May 2008, subtitled `The hapless adventures of a high-visibility undercover detective'. That gives you the flavour. From missing dogs to miscarriages of justice, errant husbands to disappearing teenage girls, Will's book is a roller coaster ride through the life of a private eye on the streets of Boston. Will is still travelling, teaching and writing but has kindly paused for a moment or two to talk to Shots.
Q. I've greatly enjoyed reading Limey Gumshoe (see the Shotsmag review pages), by and my copy has now been snatched out of my hands by my American-born husband. When you first arrived in the US what kind of book were you expecting to get out of your trip (apart from finishing the one that you were currently engaged on)?
Being semi-permanently itinerant I was pleased of the opportunity to be able to house-sit in Boston to finish a book about France. I also had some vague plan to visit New England. My entry into the world of Private Investigation was fortuitous and not a little surprising but I have been on the road long enough to go with the flow and consider offers as they come by. Of course it wasn’t long before I realised what the subject matter of my next book might be!
Q. Had you any experience of the true crime world before you became a US gumshoe, either here or in the other countries you have worked in?
Apart from drinking in a bar in the back streets of Marseille which turned out to be owned by the Mafia and which was forever being ‘shaken down’ by the cops, no none at all. The bar finally closed down when the last gang member went to prison. I have never been able to drink Pastis again.
Q. If not, did your taste of the crime world US-style tempt you into investigating the private eye scene in the UK or any of the other countries you have visited - or might visit?
Yes, absolutely. I have investigated the PI possibilities elsewhere and also in the UK. Watch this space!
Q. In Limey Gumshoe you make many trenchant observations on the US, and I liked the way you never judged, but only observed for good or ill. Which side were the scales weighted on after your return to the UK?
Well, perhaps not dissimilarly from the UK, justice, legal or natural, is very much weighted in favour of the rich and the powerful. The poor and the ill-educated suffer at the hands of grave injustices. Unfortunately, despite my fairly durable optimism, I do not see that situation changing.
Q. What was your general impression of public defenders and the overall US criminal justice system?
Terribly over-burdened. Resultantly huge mistakes are made. A PI friend of mine suggested that with funds available to properly represent defendants up to a quarter of prisoners in jail in the US today would never have been convicted!
Q. You have a gift for meeting characters somewhat larger than life. Are you tempted to turn your hand into creating similar characters in crime fiction?
Funny you should say that. I am mulling over some ideas – most of which have some autobiographical dimension. I think I make rather a good detective although perhaps not undercover being much too noisy, tall and English!
Q. You write as an outside observer, and yet you manage to keep the reader involved with the people you meet and the situations they find themselves in, whether these are funny or tragic. Do you carry this detached perspective as a traveller wherever you might be, or this how it emerges on to the page when reliving it afterwards?
I have never been the type of traveller who wishes to pass through observing. Rather I have sought close contact with the people I meet, living and working alongside them and inevitably sharing their successes and their tragedies. That is easy to report.
Q. You left your writing desk in Boston with alacrity when the opportunity arose to join Chestnut Investigations (names changed to protect the innocent). Did you have to be chained to your computer to write Limey Gumshoe or did it flow as naturally as appears from your readable style?
Limey Gumshoe was a breeze to write, although sometimes I thought I should have written it on an old-fashioned typewriter. Perhaps I should have survived the process on packets of Lucky Strike and quarts of rye whisky.
Q. You tell us in Limey Gumshoe that Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is your alter ego. Do you see yourself as Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart?
Either would be an honour. Probably rather more Inspector Clouseau, I fear.
Q. Do you ever see yourself living full-time in the US, with or without the gun element described in Limey Gumshoe?
Funnily enough when I consider the question I realise how important the forthcoming presidential elections will be.
Q. And the inevitable…. Where are you off to next? And will a new book be twinkling in your eye?
Oh, where do I start? Costa Rica? Mexico? Or Sri Lanka. I have got some friends in Sabah, Borneo too. Decisions, decisions. Wherever I end up I will not be able to prevent myself telling you all about it!
Many thanks, Will. All good wishes for your travels and we’ll be looking forward to reading in due course about the mean streets of wherever.
Limey Gumshoe by Will Randall
is published by Abacus ( 29 May 2009 )
in trade paperback at £11.99