Los Angeles burglar Junior Bender is in the middle of burgling a house and has just gotten his hands on one of the world's rarest stamps when the job goes terrifically wrong. After barely escaping, Junior realizes the danger is far from over. He's gotten himself on the wrong side of a man whose name is synonymous with violence, and to save his own skin he's set off a chain reaction of blackmail, strong-arming, and escalating crime. To pay off his underworld debts, Junior is forced to break into the house of the most powerful man in Hollywood, the shadowy, widely feared studio mogul known as King Maybe. It's an impossible break-in, and to get out of the house alive Junior will need to use everything he's learned, plus a few skills he knows he doesn't possess.
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A likable burglar? An unlikely premise.
No. Even though I really enjoy Tim Hallinan's writing, the Poke Rafferty books are more enjoyable, and IMHO they are much more consistent with the writer's Rule #1: write about what you know. Tim's humor is intact: the jokes come fast and furious. However, Junior Bender is a much less enjoyable protagonist than Poke, and the stories of his burglaries are exactly what you might think: not so much fun. Junior tries to rationalize what he is doing (stealing from the rich and wicked...) but we never identify with these ruminations. I understand Tim's need to avoid getting trapped into writing the same books over and over, but this series is never going to match the first one.
Junior is clearly not my favorite, and there aren't enough well-drawn characters to get attached to one of them. The fact that he has terrific burglary skills? Is that something we are supposed to relish? The fact that he usually rips off horribly rich and, therefore, evil guys does not mitigate the thefts. It's just a bad premise. I have only read two of these, and started a third, but I know what I like.
Peter is a great narrator. His voice is marvelous, richly textured and pleasant to listen to. A tiny nit to pick is his breathiness, which he overuses. But he sells the jokes very well.
Do yourself a favor and read the Poke Rafferty books. There is some rough stuff, but here Tim is genuinely writing about what he knows. He lives in Southeast Asia for six months of each year, and he knows Thailand as an expert does. His depiction of women is great. The best book, I feel, is almost entirely about Rose, his wife. The title is The Queen of Patpong. This book truly deserves to become a movie, which is partly why the moneymen of H'wood will never do it. They are constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel, a segment of the population that Tim is most assuredly not writing for. The whole book is so vivid, the character of Rose is so real that you know her almost like a friend, whom you would love to spend time with. (I have split three infinitives here, for those of you grammar fairies who may be counting.) A unique and fantastic work of art and the writer's many talents.
- Richard Delman