A Junior Bender Mystery
By Timothy Hallinan
Soho, January, 2013 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Junior Bender, sometime-burglar known for getting other crooks out of jams, is known for never carrying a firearm, but police detective and Tootsie Roll addict Paulie DiGaudio needs his help. DiGuadio's Uncle Vinnie is facing a murder rap, and Junior's unique skills could get him off the hook. The detective applies a bit of pressure concerning the recent robbery and pistol-whipping of a judge and his wife to get Junior's attention, and get it he does.
Vinnie DiGaudio was a Dick Clark clone back in Philadelphia in the 1950's, managing a stable of handsome, more-or-less talented young Italian singers who resembled Elvis, some more than others. Now he's living the good life in Los Angeles, and he does not want to mess it up by landing in the slammer. Junior tries to avoid getting involved with murder, but Vinnie makes him an offer he can't refuse, and soon he's on the case.
With some techie help from his precocious teenage daughter Rina, he starts tracking down the Little Elvises DiGuadio had propelled to fleeting fame decades ago. He uncovers long-buried secrets, personal tragedies, and current cover-ups. He also gets disturbingly (for him) close and personal with the widow of the victim Vinnie is accused of murdering, and takes umbrage with his ex-wife's new boyfriend. It ain't easy being Junior.
Junior's plenty busy with Vinnie's case, but his landlady pleads for him to look for her missing daughter, and he also can't refuse a woman's tears. Marge, the widowed owner of Junior's latest motel home, Marge 'n Ed's North Pole, doesn't always make a lot of sense, due to her affair with the bottle, but he comes to believe she's right about her daughter being in danger.
There are wonderful characters in Junior's world. Louie the Lost keeps Junior supplied with cars of dubious provenance and takes mind-improving seminars. This year it's on Shakespeare. At one point, Louie ponders how one divides Roman numerals, and claims kings are just crooks with better hats. He has a telegraph line to all the criminal news and gossip which comes in handy in this case. Vinnie, or as he prefers, Vincent, is larger than life, likable in a crude way, a showman born and bred. His gatekeeper is a grim-looking harpy who resembles "the apple-bearing witch in Snow White on steroids." Even the minor characters are distinctive and remarkable. The dialog is snappy and funny, the plot is nice and twisty, there's nothing not to like.
Hallinan has another winner in this, the second in the Junior Bender mystery series. The third, THE FAME THIEF, is due out in July of this year. He also writes the equally entertaining, award-winning Poke Rafferty series, set in Thailand.
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