Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan
Junior Bender really does not like Christmas. Give him a while and he might tell you why, but it’s a really long and sad story.
Which makes it rather ironic that his latest “job” — read “being forced to help an LA crook by another LA crook, because he’s too smart for his own good” — is taking place during the lead-up to that holiday.
This Christmas, Junior’s playing Mall Cop at the delightfully dilapidated Edgerton Mall, with its empty storefronts, questionable music, and not one but two Santas. Apparently, the mall has an extremely serious shoplifting problem — one that Junior, being one of the best cat burglars around, has been called in to break.
That might not be so bad, except that this is a puzzle that’s baffling even Junior. Unfortunately his “employer” is a very dangerous man with a silly name who wants results very quickly. And he’s not only quite happy to threaten everyone Junior loves if he doesn’t get his way, he probably means it, too.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Junior’s mysterious girlfriend is also not a fan of Christmas, to the point that Junior’s attempts to cheer her up seem bound to ruin their relationship. And then there’s the fact that people are trying to kill him, either for doing his job or not doing it fast enough…
In the past, when faced with adversity, Junior likes to take the middle road, and play his threats against one another. This time he doesn’t really have that opportunity, and he’s going to have to rely on his other skills — and questionable network of friends and allies — to see him through the holiday he hates.
Saying that Fields Where They Lay is going to be your new favorite holiday mystery-thriller might seem an idle boast, but there’s a lot to recommend here. As always, Hallinan combines well-timed plot beats and criminal know-how and ingenuity with the same rough justice and quiet decency that drives his Poke Rafferty novels, all spiked with lot of very wry humor and keen social commentary disguised as cynicism (or vice versa).
In Fields, however, the combination of a semi-comedic yet deadly adversary — think a Russian mobster Donald Trump as a Pantomime villain — along with the faint hope of saving Christmas on a personal level kicks this story up another notch. Once again, Timothy Hallinan’s given us a book to cheer, and a character to cheer for, but this outing is like a sweet little holiday story… with dead bodies, live crooks, and a wartime reminiscence that’s both heartwarming and terrifying.
Fields Where They Lay has been getting a lot of well-deserved buzz — read it and you’ll see why. It drops on October 25, it will be available at all Schuler Books and Music locations, and can be ordered from our website.
– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood