It’s not often I come across books that are laugh-out-loud funny. Happily, Timothy Hallinan’s series of Junior Bender mysteries does the trick. Or, at least the first two do. Number one in the series, Crashed, convinced me to rush out and buy the second, Little Elvises. As I wrote in my review of Crashed, it “is at times a very funny book.” Little Elvises is funnier.

A career criminal who is a “crimebuster”

Junior Bender is a crook. Specifically, he is a burglar who has been at work at his craft for nearly two decades. He lives in motels, shifting from one to another with great regularity to avoid being observed by whoever may be following him. (That happens a lot.) Though he has never been caught, a growing number of people — fellow criminals, mostly — are well aware of his skill and turn to him for help in solving their problems. This usually involves breaking into the homes of dangerous people and confronting very large, heavily muscled men. In the process of helping out one crook, Junior typically manages to incriminate another one, thus serving the police while saving his own skin. Crimebuster, indeed.

Little Elvises (Junior Bender #2) by Timothy Hallinan (2012) 347 pages ★★★★★

The ghosts of Elvis Presley

As Hallinan discloses in an Author’s Note, there was a time, back in the days of Dick Clark’s Bandstand (the 50s, to you Millennials), when Elvis Presley was at the top of the charts and imitators abounded. Not the shaggy Elvis impersonators who wander the casinos of Las Vegas but young men with more than a passing resemblance to Elvis himself who sang (or at least attempted to do so). A number of these Little Elvises came out of Philadelphia “managed an produced by an Italian-American guy whose name . . . ended in a vowel,” as do those in Hallinan’s novel.

Nominally, the novel is about Junior Bender’s attempt to prove that one shady character — a wealthy former record producer from Philadelphia — is innocent of the murder of another shady character, an unscrupulous scandal sheet reporter. However, Little Elvises is more properly the story of  Junior’s attempt to uncover why one of the Elvis lookalikes died in a fire at his home and another one suddenly disappeared, seemingly forever, both decades ago. He is, after all, a crimebuster. Junior is aided by his former getaway driver, Louie the Lost, and a girlfriend he picks up along the way. Together they encounter an enormous thug who is impervious to pain and a ninety-year-old crime boss who apparently pulls all the strings in Los Angeles.

An accomplished stylist

Hallinan is not just funny. He demonstrates the ability to sustain the suspense in a story. He also writes well. For example, “The carpet had been a snowy white fifteen or twenty years ago, but was now the precise color of guilt, a brownish gray like a dusty spiderweb, interrupted here and there by horrific blotches of darkness, as though aliens with pitch in their veins had bled out on it.” And he’s got the skill to convince us that a career criminal can truly become a crimebuster.

About the author

Timothy Hallinan has lived on and off in Bangkok since the early 1980s. He divides his time between Thailand and Southern California. Hallinan has written volumes of detective fiction, including five novels in the Junior Bender series and six set in Bangkok.

This book is one of the Great mysteries about Hollywood.

This book is just one example of Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series of very funny comic crime novels.

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