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Nighttown: A Junior Bender Mystery


Nighttown: A Junior Bender Mystery

Many authors would engage (internally, of course) in delirious self-congratulations if they were able to create one successful series. Timothy Hallinan has produced three.

His Simeon Grist series --- resurrected not too long ago after an extended hiatus --- is fondly remembered, and PULPED, the latest installment, has been heartily received. The Poke Rafferty novels --- about an American expatriate journalist living in Bangkok, working as a travel writer and unofficially as a private investigator --- propelled Hallinan to the top of the “must-read” lists of many. That status has been further cemented by Junior Bender, the go-to burglar for the members of the Los Angeles underworld. Junior is an unlikely but likable protagonist whose glib remarks often belie the dark circumstances in which he frequently finds himself. This is particularly true of book seven in the series, NIGHTTOWN.

"The plotting, characterization and superior prose make this a memorable series that you should be reading religiously."

As one might expect in a book whose protagonist is a burglar, there is a burglary that is the beating heart of NIGHTTOWN. What is different here is that Junior does not want to do the job for several different reasons, though he must. The reason for the “must” is that he needs a lot of money as soon as possible. He and his girlfriend Ronnie have to hire a kidnapper to get Ronnie’s two-year-old son back from her ex-husband, who is ensconced in an extremely secure fortified compound in New Jersey. The reason for the “not want” is a bit more complicated. Junior has a hard and fast rule that boils down to never taking a job that pays too well. The job that he is offered fits that definition.

Junior is being retained to break into an abandoned mansion --- the former home of a recently deceased 97-year-old reclusive invalid --- to retrieve a doll from her extensive collection. Well aware that it is not worth the $50,000 he would be paid, he quickly figures out there is something inside the doll that is the prize. The woman who is hiring him is somewhat off-putting as well. Needs is as needs does, however, and as a result Junior finds himself doing the creepy crawly in the deteriorating house, only to discover that someone else has been hired to snatch up the doll. The expensive toy is located in short enough order, but the object --- whatever it is --- that was hidden inside it is missing. This results in a violent death, and so Junior is driven not only to complete the caper but also to gain some measure of revenge for the victim, a fond acquaintance of his.

Both are seemingly impossible tasks, but Junior ferrets out a couple of slender and fragile evidentiary threads, one of which takes him back almost a century to a couple of familial secrets involving the former resident of the once-palatial mansion and its original owner. Junior acquires a few valuable first-edition books along the way and renews some old acquaintances with friends and enemies alike, even as he puts himself in terrible danger from his unlikely employers who think that he just might have found the object they are seeking and is keeping it for himself. The conclusion of this intriguing story packs an unexpected wallop, which resonates long after the last (and highly satisfying) sentence is read.

There are a number of twists and turns sprinkled throughout, some of which don’t manifest themselves as such until close to the very end. Hallinan leaves one particular story arc unresolved --- probably for the next installment --- but anyone who has read NIGHTTOWN (not to mention the previous six books) will be back for more, regardless of hinting, prodding or otherwise. The plotting, characterization and superior prose make this a memorable series that you should be reading religiously.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 21, 2018

Nighttown: A Junior Bender Mystery
by Timothy Hallinan

  • Publication Date: October 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1641290919
  • ISBN-13: 9781641290913