I laughed out loud. Junior Bender? Not a teenager on a drinking spree but a first name and a last name? Junior Bender?
Predisposed to liking anything Timothy Hallinan might put on paper by virtue of his creativity in coming up with a name for his protagonist, I am in the throes of a love affair that will last five books (as that’s as far as the series has gone to date).
I read by author. I find someone I like and read everything they’ve written – or at least everything I can get my hands on. Usually I stumble over them. Occasionally I test Amazon to see if they really know what they’re talking about when they suggest titles they’re sure I’ll like… usually their algorithm is a tad skewed. I’m a member of a public library that has something similar and they’re far more accurate. They recommended Hallinan and chose well for me.
Junior Bender is a Los Angeles burglar deluxe—a thief’s thief. But he also has a sideline: he works as a private eye. For crooks. When someone commits a crime against a crook, odds are good that the crook isn’t going to the cops. He or she is going to Junior Bender.
Not the most enticing blurb I’d ever read but I was hung up on the name.
The first novel – Crashed – introduces Junior and his ex-wife, his daughter, his mates, and his lifestyle. He lives in motels – a different one each month. He’s intelligent. He’s articulate. And he’s funny. A modern-day take on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, he’s just as lovable. And you know how much I rate Raymond Chandler. Any time I sit and read a book and find myself repeatedly thinking – I wish I’d written that – I know it’s going to be a good one.
She gave me the slow nod women use to indicate that they understand our pain, they admire the courage with which we handle it, and they’re absolutely certain that it’s all our fault.
Junior educated himself by reading one book – The Recognitions, by William Gaddis – and then reading books on every subject Gaddis mentions. The book, he says, ‘is about forgery and faith and between those things you can crowd most of life’. I read Crashed from cover to cover in one sitting. Hooked. I waited a few days to let it digest, to let me acclimatise. And then checked out Book 2 – Little Elvises – about all those hopeful, lookalike wannabes that ‘churned to the surface in the wake of Elvis Presley’.
Women fall in love with a man thinking they’re getting a ship that will take them somewhere, she’d said, but most of the time what they get is an anchor, and it drags them down.
He describes the ‘perfect picture of a guilty conscience at 3 am’. He tells how he ‘turned his ankle on a rock that nature had abandoned to sulk all by itself in the middle of nowhere.’ And his mate Louie can hold his own in the running commentary…
And you know women, they’re both back there turning it into the crime of the century. Planting it in a little garden in the center of their hearts and watering it with feelings. Talking about it, sharing it. You’re a cheat, you’re a heartbreaker, you’re like a museum exhibit, Everything That’s Wrong with Guys.
Junior likes his introspection. And within his insights are things we could all do with paying more attention to. Like when his 13-year-old daughter seemed to have found herself a boyfriend ‘who was so black it was as though he’d been set intentionally in front of me, a ring of fire through which I had to pass unburned in order to continue being the person I’d always thought I was instead of the boring middle-class bigot I seemed to have become.’ Beautiful.
And, of course, the mystery is there. Superbly plotted and potted with characters who have a life of their own, each one unique, colourful, and someone I’d like to see for real. I’ve already borrowed Book 3 – The Fame Thief – but want to have one uninterrupted evening to enjoy it. I’m curious to see if Ronnie is still around and if Rina and Tyrone are still on track.
And although I know the words are from the mind and pen of Timothy Hallinan, he’s done an excellent job of losing the writer, and creating a character who speaks for himself. He himself splits his time between Santa Monica, CA, and Southeast Asia. He’s got two other series under his belt, both of which have skipped to the top of my must-read list – Poke Rafferty and Simeon Grist. September is shaping up to be a lovely month.
PS. I read somewhere that Eddie Izzard is supposed to be bringing Junior to life on the TV screen but so far that’s just a rumour. I live in hope.