”For most people who write thrillers and mysteries, creating crooks is more than half the fun. They’re intrinsically interesting because they’ve rejected the standard set of values and, since we all need values of some kind, they’ve invented their own. It was probably just a matter of time before I came up with a series that’s essentially all crooks.”—Tim Hallinan
Tim Hallinan wrote the above in the “Author’s Note” to the first book in his new series featuring Junior Bender, "Burglar to the Stars," in Los Angeles. For those readers unfamiliar with Hallinan’s work, he has written a series set in Thailand featuring Poke Rafferty, a travel writer with a heart of gold and karma to burn. Rafferty makes a lot of sense (and friends) defending the underdog in unequal transactions and seems to grasp the essentially welcoming Thai society is not as morally deficient as it is painted by some critics, but has a strong sense of values that are easily transgressed by unwitting or unthinking Westerners.
In the Junior Bender series Hallinan turns his eagle eye on Los Angeles for a change. The reader can tell he is having a blast with the range of folks and the shifting sense of morality he encountered there. Hallinan still has a strong instinct for protecting the underdog: witness his lack of judgment about the drug addiction of his latest fictional charge, a young female actress on a downward spiral snookered into making a porn film. These are verboten subjects in Western educated circles but Hallinan doesn’t let it faze him. He has the “come to me with your handicaps” generosity of the Dalai or the Pope. And if those two men of god will fix your afterlife, Hallinan, and his henchman Junior Bender, will fix the here-and-now.
The pace in this novel is fast—the whole thing takes place in a couple of sleepless days (the reader may experience this also)-- and the subject matter is edgy. California is once again on the leading edge in reformulating “moral man.” But everybody is a crook of some sort, as Hallinan said in the opening quote to this review, so one has to roll with the attitude and take the material for the laughs. Moral insights are there, however, as they always are with Hallinan’s books, which makes it thought-provoking and good discussion material. How far would we be willing to go, given the same constraints or circumstances?
Check out the genesis of this series on Tim Hallinan’s website. Hallinan is a man who doesn’t let a little negativity let him down. When his long-time publisher didn’t want an L.A. series, Hallinan self-published until Soho Crime picked him up. Now he has sold the film rights and the audio rights. But he’s got it going on now: visit this review by blogger and former Valley girl Nancy O.
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