It's everyday business when Wattles, the San Fernando Valley's top "executive crook", sets up a hit. He establishes a chain of criminals to pass along the instructions and the money, thereby ensuring that the hitter doesn't know who hired him. Then one day Wattles finds his office safe open and a single item missing: the piece of paper listing the crooks in the chain. When people associated with the chain begin to pop up dead, the only person Wattles can turn to for help is Junior Bender, professional burglar and begrudging private eye for crooks.
But Junior already knows exactly who took Wattles' list; the signature is obvious. It was Herbie Mott, Junior's burglar mentor and second father - but when Junior seeks him out to discuss the matter, he finds him very unpleasantly murdered. Junior follows the links in the chain back toward the killer, and as he does, he learns disturbing things about Herbie's hidden past. Just how much of the life he's lived for the past 20 years has been of his own making, and how much of it was actually Herbie's game?
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A serious misstep from one of my faves.
I have loved all of the Poke Rafferty books, which show us the extraordinary vista of Tim Hallinan's talent. On the other hand, I have read a couple of the Junior Bender books, and I have to ask, "Why?" Junior can't even be compared to Poke as a protagonist in any way. A burglar? That we are supposed to get interested in and enjoy following his exploits? His fellow low-life burglars, and his teacher, Herbie, the grandfather of burglars, who teaches crooks how to break into people's houses? What on earth could have made Tim seriously think that this would be an enjoyable read? I know there is humor, and the fact that he is getting recognized for the humor is all good. But it's just not for me.
I'm not going to generalize from this attempt to other authors' works. Thomas Perry, for instance, has accomplished what one might think of as the impossible in this area: the Butcher's Boy is a serial killer with whom we empathize, and whose adventures often find us, against all odds, rooting for him. Other authors might be able to do something like this, but I haven't come across it yet. As a faithful reader of Tim's newsletter, I know that he has more Junior Bender books planned, as well as more Poke Rafferty books. Disappointing.
The narrator actually is pretty good. There are many voices, which he does well. I woould listen to him again, just not to a Junior Bender book. The narrator of the Poke Rafferty series, by contrast, is just marvelous, and I would not want anyone else to read them.
Basically disinterest. I just don't care about the lives of these characters. I very much appreciate Tim's sense of humor, but you just can't get me to care about the lives of these criminals and their lock-picking skills, and their "disconnects" (don't bother) and their beautiful, hot, smart (yeah, yeah, yeah) chicks. The one attempt to really humanize Junior is his attachment to his daughter, Rina. Fine and good, if trite and obvious. Not enough.
Nope. Read all of the Poke Rafferty books.
- Richard Delman
Good comic mystery-Junior as "detective."