Saturday, May 04, 2013

Entertaining Mystery: LITTLE ELVISES by Timothy Hallinan (Soho Crime)

Making a list, or better yet, a stack, for summer reading? If you enjoy a mystery that's layered with complex clues and twists, and at the same time makes you chuckle out loud, I can recommend the three-book series by Timothy Hallinan (yes, the same Timothy Hallinan who writes the Poke Rafferty mysteries): the Junior Bender mysteries, Crashed, Little Elvises, and The Fame Thief.

We already reviewed Crashed here, with the recommendation that it was good enough to pre-order (yes!). So here's a bit about Little Elvises. Junior Bender, a clever career thief with a reputation to maintain,  often works for hire, so to speak -- someone wants a particular high-end item, like a fine painting, and Junior targets, removes, and markets the item in a smooth sequence. His tricks for entering unoccupied homes are diverse and well timed. He isn't wild about his career choice when it comes to trying to get back into his daughter's good graces, not to mention his ex-wife's ... but he takes pride in his skills.

So as this volume of his exploits opens in Southern California, Hollywood area, it's partcularly galliing to Bender that a police officer is creating a case against him for a theft he didn't do, and wouldn't have -- because there was a gun involved. Junior Bender doesn't use guns. Everyone knows.

What everyone doesn't know, though, its that DiGaudio, who is putting the screws onto Bender in a police station cell, has relatives who are ... shall we say, mobbed up? Well, DiGaudio won't say that. But Junior Bender is getting the message: DiGaudio wants Bender's skills for a job to salvage some reputations. Bender's even being pushed about his 13-year-old daughter and what she'll think of him if DiGaudio tags him with a much nastier crime than he'd ever actually commit.

Interestingly, Bender's daughter already knows something about what the complications are -- that is, what "little Elvises" are. She's written a paper for school on "the way American pop culture imitates itself, the way it stamps out little tin copies of anything original that makes money. The example she chose was all the little Elvises from Philly who were churned to the surface in the wake of Elvis Presley."

Hallinan's deft plotting soon tangles Bender into the saddest and most dangerous parts of the studio music scene, as well as -- could it be? -- mob connections from multiple locations. And all this, while Bender's daughter is getting involved in the actual detection, because, of course, she's so much better than her dad at all the Internet stuff that suddenly turns out to be necessary knowledge for him to survive DiGaudio's quickly closing net. If that's even possible.

Well, you know it must be possible -- I've already said there's a third book. The Fame Thief comes out at the beginning of July, just in time for vacation reading. But play fair: Read the first two books first, if you can! If you enjoy the best of Lawrence Block or the capers that Donald Westlake wrote (or, not to be gendered about it, Bethany Maines!); get a kick out of Los Angeles crime fiction like Raymond Chandler's; and appreciate a well-played hand of characters whose mistakes feel very, very believable, even though they're criminals and you're not (I hope!) ... then this is a series you'll enjoy.

One quick mention: For some reason, the ribbon of text on the cover saying "A Junior Bender Mystery" has made a few people this this features a teen detective and belongs on the "young adult" shelf. Banish the thought! Gently raunchy, always amusing, and a page-turner that will keep you going even when the summer sun's heating up, Little Elvises is a heck of a lot of fun. For grown-ups.

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