Sunday, November 04, 2012

Timothy Hallinan, CRASHED: So Good, It's Worth Pre-Ordering

We had a moment of confusion here at Kingdom Books the other evening, as I made ecstatic sounds on the couch while reading CRASHED, the new book from Timothy Hallinan (of Poke Rafferty fame) and told Dave he was going to love it -- and he looked up in puzzlement from his iPad grazing in the armchair across the room and said, "But isn't it a young adult book?"

No, it's not -- emphatically not, since much of the plot turns on the making of a Hollywood "adult movie"! Turns out the reason Dave thought it was for the teen crowd was the name of the book's burglar-protagonist, Junior Bender. The cover design subtitles the book "A Junior Bender Mystery" and Dave, reading it as a tad old-fashioned, assumed "Junior" must be a kid detective.

That said, this is one of those books you long for, wait for, and find once or twice a year -- with an innovative plot (one of those fictional situations where the reader like me says "OMG, of course there had to be a mystery based on this"), an action-packed pace (lots of short chapters, seven or eight pages; if this bugs you, steer clear -- I was surprised at how quickly I adapted, though, and loved the wry chapter titles); and best of all, a burglar protagonist (stand back, Lawrence Block and the late Donald E. Westlake) whose occasional bunglings don't take away from his overall skills and smarts, and whose people-wisdom and inner tenderness drive the action and the solution.

Gotta love it.

Short summary: Junior Bender is a pro burglar, and accepts contract work for others. While attempting (successfully) to steal a Paul Klee painting, he lingers too long and gets trapped by very nasty Rottweiler guard dogs. Through a clever twist of plot, this results in Bender becoming the advocate for a child-actor-grown-up who's about to earn her way into her next round of drug use by acting in a porn flick, under organized crime pressure.

Here's a taste of the writing, from the moment when Bender's buddy Louie (the Lost) shows him an old TV show where the child actor performed (Bender is not a TV watcher himself, despite hiding out in crummy motel rooms where the TV is the "second largest" item of furniture):
She came in, but walking as though she was heading into a ninety-mile an hour wind. It seemed to take every muscle in her body to travel four steps. I could almost see her hair blowing behind her.

"How does she do that?" I asked.

"She did that or better every week," Louise said, without taking his eyes from the screen, "for eight years."

... "What happened?"

Louise got up and went to the window, using one finger to part the curtain. "They're still out there." He turned back to me. "She grew up, I guess. And no show lasts forever ... She was worth it. She'd been working since she was little, carrying the thole thing, and she probably got fed up." He looked with some longing at the dark screen. "She was something, though."
I've already decided I'll re-read this book at least once a year for the rest of my reading life, for the sake of trying to figure out how Hallinan packs so much human hope into a crime novel packed with violent episodes, betrayal, crashes, and more. I hope mobs of people pre-order this book (due out Nov. 13), whether at bookstores or online. Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series was/is terrific -- and this is even better.

Oh yeah, it's going to have a sequel. Two! The second book, Little Elvises, will come out in January, and the third, The Fame Thief, in June 2013. (Who knows why?) (NOTE: Paul Oliver at Soho tells why, in the first comment that follows this post -- do read onward!) One more quick item of very good news: Hallinan gives credit to Soho Crime editor Juliet Grames for helping bring out the best of CRASHED. Grames is rapidly creating a room (much more than a shelf!) of some of today's best crime fiction. Count on more to come.


Paul Oliver said...

Hello from Soho!

This is Paul Oliver from Soho Press writing to thank you for the wonderful review and for all the kind words. Bookseller praise is what we live for.

I want to take a moment to answer one of your questions. The reason we are rapidly publishing the three Junior Bender books (and I can't wait for you to see the finished copies--Tim refers to them as poisonous hard candy) is because they were previously self-published.

Tim self-published CRASHED and LITTLE ELVISES initially. They were only available on... Amazon.

Lionsgate aggressively purchased the Junior Bender books for production earlier this fall, and Juliet then swooped in on them and literally crash-edited them. To minimize the time they were down online, we condensed the production and publication schedule to an eight-month window. The third book, THE FAME THIEF, has never been available before.

I used to own a bookstore in the Philadelphia area. Nothing pleased me more than to take something that was an Amazon exclusive and make it available to brick & mortars as well.

These are really fun books and everyone at Soho is thrilled to make these available to everyone.

Who says traditional publishers can't be savvy and nimble?

Thanks again for the wonderful review!

Beth Kanell said...

Paul, thanks for clarifying why this great new series is coming out so quickly. What a treat you're giving us! Hurrah for Soho and its "savvy and nimble" response.

I'm really looking forward to the entire series.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Hi, Beth, and thank you for making my entire month of November. This is the kind of generous reaction that makes writing worthwhile. (Well, it's worthwhile even while we're doing it, but you know what I mean -- you put in all this work in the hope that it will entertain or even delight someone.) This means a lot to me!

Peg Brantley said...

Everything good that can come to Tim Hallinan and all of his books is truly well deserved.

I can't help but believe that he is on a precipice, and there's only one way to fall… UP!