Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Timothy Hallinan has doubtlessly created one of the more unique investigators in Junior Bender, a man who generally serves the other side of the law. In Rock of Ages, Timothy Hallinan sends his protagonist on a weekend-long investigation for an old gangster, Irwin Dressler, who fears someone might be using the rock tour he put together as a front to steal his money.
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Timothy Hallinan Launches a Tour for Seniors
Though I can’t exactly pretend to know how modern music bands exist, I think it’s no big secret how the vast majority of hotshot rock groups from the 1960s and 1970s ended up: strung out with emotional, physical, legal and economical problems… and that’s for those still alive. Nevertheless, many of us would be willing to watch them fumble in trying to recapture their glory days of old, something an old gangster, Irwin Dressler, uses to his advantage in Rock of Ages by Timothy Hallinan.
This might be the eighth book in A Junior Bender Mystery series, and while I do recommend you read the previous entry (as well as all the other ones, if you’re a mystery fan), each novel very much works as a standalone. If, for some reason, you would prefer for this instalment to be your introduction to the series, feel free to dive right in without reservations.
In any case, the story takes us to Los Angeles, where the afore-mentioned Irwin Dressler, along with his old colleagues, have decided to put together a national rock n’ roll tour composed of formerly popular bands whom they all own pieces of. Though they might have all been icons back in their heyday, the decades have taken their toll on the various bands and their members, but that’s not even what Dressler is concerned about.
Nor is he concerned about the two near-fatal accidents which might have actually been assassination attempts (which, to be fair, is nothing new for his line of business). What really concerns the old man is the idea that one of his colleagues might actually be using the tour as a clever front to steal the gangster’s money from right under his nose.
This is where he turns to Junior Bender, giving him a single weekend to solve the case while they’re touring in his city. The investigation starts off quite well for Junior, who sees his tires slashed, ominous messages left on his car, and the arrival of his teenage daughter for the weekend. Long story short, he must recover Dressler’s money, prevent a murder from happening, and talk his daughter out of following in his muddied footsteps… all in a couple days’ work.
The Colourful World of Crime in Rock of Ages
If you’re already acquainted with some of Timothy Hallinan‘s previous works, at least the ones pertaining to this series, then you’ll instantly recognize the sort of mood he’s trying to set up, the kind of atmosphere he wants to drag the reader into from the very first pages. As he did in previous novels, he attempts to mix the dark and cruel elements of the criminal world with healthy doses of humour and absurdity, and in my opinion, he succeeds once again, for the most part at least.
When it comes to any sequences where we’re dealing with Dressler, his cohorts, and pretty much anything revolving around the seedy Los Angeles underground, I found myself completely entranced beyond belief. The characters all clearly have an imagined history to them, giving us the impression they actually inhabit the world in Rock of Ages, rather than serving as props for the story.
While most authors would probably make fools of themselves trying to give a crime-central story such heavy comedic overtones, Hallinan evidently has a true talent for it, being able to make us both fear and laugh at the bad guys at the same time. The danger might be omnipresent, so-to-speak, but so are the ridiculous twists and turns which allow us to laugh in its face.
This time around, I hate to say that not all the characters turned out to be successful, at least in my opinion. Not that they detracted from the story, but they certainly felt like they could have used a little more attention on the author’s behalf. Mainly, I’m talking about the members of the various rock bands who, to me at least, felt rather limited when it came to the complexity of their personalities. They all do serve their purposes well enough, but it’s definitely an aspect which doesn’t measure up to the rest of the book.
Nevertheless, they didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story, especially not when Hallinan drags us deep into a criminal world which, if it doesn’t exist, hopefully will one day if we can’t get rid of crime in the first place. He has the knack for including a cornucopia of small details with hilarious connotations, the true hallmark of a masterful writer with a flair for building worlds and characters.
The Confusing Life of a Father/Burglar/Detective
Junior Bender, in more ways than one, has carried the series from its inception, serving as the unusual and fascinating linchpin for numerous stories which, at times, have faltered, but never fatally. The reason I keep coming back to A Junior Bender Mystery series time and time again is to see the main character in action, what he has to say, and the creative ways in which he’ll deal with the ridiculous problems only he seems to face.
If you’re a fan of his like myself, then you’ll be glad to know he’s in tip-top shape, showing no signs of having seven books behind his back. Timothy Hallinan does an excellent job at walking the fine line between keeping him completely stagnant and developing him into someone unrecognizable. From one book to the next he changes a little bit, like a real human being would, but his imaginative and sarcastic core always remains.
I was especially glad to see him at his best due to the pace in the first half of the book. Things do take a little while to get going, with many introductions being necessary and a rather large stage demanding to be set. I never had the impression the author was writing for the mere sake of it in Rock of Ages, but I do think he could have gotten the ball rolling a little earlier.
In any case, when said ball does get rolling we’re treated a high-flying, rapid-fire adventure where Bender jets around at breakneck speed, trying to juggle all the different problems he’s faced with. Watching him running and flailing after the mystery (and ultimately solving it, I might add) while still finding the time to be a good father figure and laughing about the dumber side of life was probably one of the more exhilarating literary experiences I’ve had in recent memory.
Naturally, I think it would be a sin not to talk about all the various rock n’ roll references sprinkled throughout the novel, bits of history and pieces of trivia which give the whole series a unique character of its own. Hallinan never overloads the reader with his encyclopedic knowledge of the music and knows to keep it relevant to the story at hand (for the most part), complementing the plot, rather than intruding on it.
|June 14 2022
The Final Verdict
Rock of Ages by Timothy Hallinan is, despite its couple of flaws, a superb murder mystery addition to A Junior Bender Mystery series, giving us yet another thrilling ride into the absurd world of the main character as he attempts to solve a simple-yet-enthralling mystery.
If you’ve enjoyed what the series has had to offer up until now, or are simply in search for a good murder thriller which doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I definitely recommend you give this book a shot.
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.