Timothy Hallinan’s Mysterious Theft
The majority of us prefer to divide the people in this world into two major sections: those on the right side of the law, and those on the wrong one… the good and the bad guys. All too often, this leads us to forgetting the world is far from being this black-and-white, and all sorts of people can find themselves on any side of the law should fate conspire so. Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender is definitely a good person who just so happens to make his living on the wrong side of the tracks as a master thief. Ultimately, he’s just a regular person like the rest of us trying to make the best with the hand he was dealt, all while attempting to scrounge up the money necessary to hire a professional kidnapper to help his partner get her boy back in Nighttown .
As this new Junior Bender adventure opens up, we witness our hero struggling for money when a seemingly golden opportunity presents itself at his door. A mysterious red-wigged woman wants to hire him to retrieve an old china doll from a recently deceased old woman’s collection… and she’s willing top pay upwards of fifty thousand dollars for the job. Though his instincts warn him against it, Bender takes on the work, and once inside the building runs into an old acquaintance of his, also here for the doll and a master thief in her own right. However, they find the doll with a hole punched in its chest, with whatever the mysterious woman wanted now gone. Soon after, her agents roll up and kill Junior’s friend. Being in it far too deep to back out now, Bender dives deeper into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ready to give it all to find out who his client really is, what she really wants, and why she is willing to leave so many bodies in her wake to find it. If he fails, this may very well turn out to be his curtain call.
The Exotic Suspects
It seems lively adventures cannot keep away from Junior’s life, and as is always the case, he finds himself having to call in a cast of rather colourful characters to help him along on his quest, and in my opinion it stands as one of the main attractions in Nighttown. The peculiarities of his allies already start with their names, including Stinky, Eaglet, Anime, Ting Ting, Louie the Lost, and seven-foot-tall Winkle. They all have their very particular skill-sets and idiosyncrasies which allow them to be plugged in at interesting moments in the story where they can really shine. On a certain level, we even wonder if they might be his real family he doesn’t truly want to accept.
While most books would have a secondary cast of characters which simply revolves around the protagonist to maybe even serve as a bouncing board for him or her, I felt Hallinan’s approach went a few steps beyond that in this book. While we never lose sight of who the main conductor is, the smaller actors of the stage all play their own important roles in helping advance the plot. Personally I felt they were important enough to the point where I could imagine their existence completely unrelated to Junior, as if in their own perspectives they were the protagonists of their personal stories. This helps to take some of the pressure and responsibility away from Bender as the lead of this story, which I felt was a smart move considering he’s been carrying the brunt of the burden for so many books now.
The Thrill of the Theft
Black humour might certainly colour the story in broad strokes, but there is also the thriller aspect of this novel which is consistently kept above the surface. As you might expect, Junior’s adventure begins with a few twists and keeps on going in the same vein up until the end. Even if you are an ardent reader of Junior Bender mysteries, I can safely say you will still have a lot of trouble predicting the amount of ridiculous developments as Hallinan demonstrates his imagination to be just as vivid and powerful as it ever was. The main mystery might be quite simple in its premise (who hired Bender, and what was inside the doll?), but I found it was an effective tool in helping me maintain my interest as the author found ways to play off of it to consistently drum up my interest in a final resolution.
As Bender jumps from one plot point to the next, he also takes the time to feed us bits of wisdom about the burgling trade, explaining some of the finer details of the underworld and those who live in it in his trademark dry, witty and sarcastic style. In my book, he makes for perhaps one of the best antiheroes in recent memory. He isn’t exactly the friendliest type, nor is his moral compass very strict. However, even he abides by certain personal rules, and makes a point of being loyal, reliable, and not hurting anyone by his work. If anything, he’s about as close as anything we have to a modern Robin Hood, minus all the dead bodies which seem to follow him on his adventures. All in all, he certainly proves himself capable of carrying the series once more.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Nighttown is yet another successful addition to the Junior Bender Mystery series by Timothy Hallinan. The story keeps you engaged with a prodding mystery and unexpected twists, the characters all prove themselves worthy of being their own people, and the author’s trademark humour and sarcasm help bind it all together into a real Junior Bender novel. Whether this is your first or latest stop in the Junior Bender series, I highly recommend you give it a read if you are a fan of satirical thrillers.
Timothy Hallinan is an American writer who has lived off and on in Bangkok since the early 1980s, using his time there as inspiration for his new series revolving around a rough-and-tumble travel writer by the name of Philip Rafferty. His two other series are about Simeon Grist, a private detective in Los Angeles, and Junior Bender, a thief with a sense of morality. His most popular works include Skin Deep, A Nail Through the Heart, and Little Elvises.