THE FAME THIEF
A Junior Bender Mystery (#3)
By Timothy Hallinan
Soho, 2013 ($25.00)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Junior Bender, professional thief and sometime detective to the crooked, isn't afraid of much, but despite his being ninety-three years old, Irwin Dressler is one scary dude. When Dressler's henchmen request the pleasure of his company, Junior goes willingly. Not that they gave him any choice. He and the ex- (is he really ex?) mob boss turned movie king met on Junior's last case, and their relationship has been cordial, if tense. Junior wants to keep it that way, hoping that Dressler will never discover the truth about the masterpiece he paid big bucks for, no questions asked.
Dressler has a case to be solved, and he has picked Junior to solve it. Once again, it is an offer that can't be refused, but it seems easy enough. Junior doesn't like guns or violence or danger, but what harm could come from finding out who framed Dressler's friend, starlet Dolores La Marr, sixty years ago, putting an end to a promising career? What harm, indeed. After all that time, surely most of the people involved would be dead, and those who weren't would be pretty close to pushing up daisies, right? And Dressler knows where he lives — not just his motel of the month, but his super-secret hideaway in one of the last Art Deco apartment buildings in the city. Best to do what the man wants.
Junior's latest motel of the month, his method for staying under the radar, is the colorful Valentine Shmalentine. This month the décor is enhanced by the new lady in his life, Ronnie, aka Veronica, who he also met during his last case. She's one smart lady, and she doesn't mind his line of work. His ex-wife, however, minds it very much, and he has to walk the thin line between crime and crime-fighting to keep her from denying access to his teenaged daughter Rina, the true love of his life. Rina also has awesome computer skills and digs up a wealth of background information on all the parties involved in that long-ago travesty. Even though Junior has seemingly moved on, he still feels the need to closely monitor his ex's boyfriends, and to deal with them if he finds them wanting. He always finds them wanting.
Junior's investigation into what happened to Dolores La Marr takes him into the murky history of Hollywood, a time of glamor, sleaze, high-rolling, high times, and corruption. The bodies pile up as he gets closer to the truth. Some deserve their deaths, some most certainly do not, and that makes Junior really, really angry. He finds it especially offensive when someone tries to add him to the pile, and even when solving the mystery becomes moot, he plows on.
This is the third in the Junior Bender series. Mr. Hallinan also writes the award-winning Poke Rafferty series and the Simeon Grist series. While I disapprove of criminals in general, Junior is hard not to like. He's funny, smart, resourceful, and his heart is pure, even if his career choice is not. Hallinan has another winner.
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