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February 17, 2013 / schulerbooks

Crashed, by Timothy Hallinan


Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: Junior Bender is a crook. A burglar, if you want to get technical.

Not that he’s your typical thug; he’s lick-smart, well-mannered, and very well-read. He could even be described as a decent guy, and goodness knows he’s trying to be decent to his ex-wife and their teenage daughter. But he’s still not to be trusted with your valuables — if you happen to value them, anyway.

Being a thief gets him into trouble from time to time, but so does being a smart guy, because he’s the sort of person who other criminals will turn to if they have a problem that needs solving. And, unfortunately for Bender, his fellow criminals aren’t nearly as polite about asking for help as he’d like them to be.

So after a heist turns into a set-up, he gets muscled over to meet a very powerful LA woman: a mob boss who, after inheriting an empire from her father, wants to give it up and go legit. Which sounds wonderful, until it turns out that the way she’s planned to start her new, less-criminal life is to make a series of adult movies with pretensions.

And that wouldn’t be so bad, either, in this day and age, except that the star of the show is going to be a former, major child star who’s fallen on hard times. Her name is Thistle Downing, and the mob boss figures that America will pay a lot of money to see its former sweetheart doing the nasty. She might well be right, too.

The problem is that someone’s sabotaging the shoot, and there’s a fear that someone might take advantage of Thistle’s unfortunate problems (drugs, alcohol, poor decision making) to erase her from the profitable equation her new owner has derived. So it’s up to Junior Bender to solve the mystery, keep Thistle from vanishing and/or self-destructing (at least until after the movie) and make sure everything works out.

That’s the mob boss’ problem, anyway. Bender’s problem is that he really doesn’t think he can let poor Thistle, who seems barely aware of what she’s gotten herself into, actually go through with it.

What’s a decent kind of crook to do? The answer will thrill and delight anyone who’s a lover of criminal capers, light-hearted noir, and interesting characters that you want to see get away with their scams — especially when they do the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Hallinan’s always been good at bringing the real soul and spirit of a city out to play with his characters — most notably the Poke Raffery books, set in Bangkok, Thailand. But with Junior Bender, set in a Los Angeles that doesn’t appear on the tourist maps, he has delivered something of a revelation.

And if Crashed is any indication, this is going to be a series to watch.


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