Junior Bender series: Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

Since the early 1980s, Timothy Hallinan has divided his time between Southern California and Thailand. One of his three series of mystery novels is set in Bangkok, the second in Los Angeles. A later series featuring a professional burglar named Junior (That’s-His-Real-Name) Bender is also set in LA. At this writing, I’ve read only the books in the Junior Bender series. They’re consistently funny and occasionally hilarious as well as fast-paced and full of surprises.

This post was updated on July 19, 2022.

Crashed (2010)—A career criminal narrates this clever and funny mystery

When Junior Bender breaks into a luxurious home to steal a valuable painting by the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, he barely manages to escape with his life (and the painting), only to discover that he has been set up. Through a convoluted series of connections that you have to read about in detail to understand, Junior finds himself forced to undertake an assignment for “a third-generation hood and the heir to the Valley’s most diversified crime family.” She is the producer of a series of three planned pornographic films that are to star a now drug-riddled and poverty-stricken former sitcom star. The catch is that somebody doesn’t want the films to be made — and Junior is assigned to protect the would-be star. Read the full review.

Little Elvises (2011)—A crimebuster encounters the ghosts of Elvis Presley

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. 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. Read the full review.

The Fame Thief (2013)—A cockamamie story about Hollywood and the mob

Junior is pressed into service by L.A.’s 92-year-old mob boss, Irwin Dressler. For some unstated reason, Dressler insists that Junior investigate a half-century-old crime. Junior is reluctant and explains why. Dressler responds, “‘So. People try to kill you.” “‘Occupational hazard,’ Junior says. I’m working for crooks, but I’m also catching crooks. If I solve the crime, the perp wants to kill me. If I don’t solve it, my client wants to kill me.” But no one says no to Irwin Dressler. Fatalistically, Junior sets out to discover who orchestrated the public humiliation of Dolores La Marr, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Read the full review.

Herbie’s Game (2014)—A hitman, burglars, and hackers in the San Fernando Valley

Junior Bender lives in a world populated by characters with names such as Louie the Lost, Stinky Tetwiler, Wattles, Handkerchief Harrison, Monty Carlo, and Burt the Gut. Every one of these individuals, all criminals to a fault, enters into the tale Hallinan tells in Herbie’s Game. The Herbie of the title is Junior’s mentor and surrogate father, the man who taught him the burglary trade. “If I were ever sufficiently misguided to write my own life story,” he muses, “the hero of most of Act One would be a burglar named Herbie Mott.” The game of the title is, of course, burglary. But it’s not run-of-the-mill, hit-and-run burglary of the sort perpetrated by drug addicts. This is a thoroughly professional approach, and Junior’s name has never surfaced in police files. Read the full review.

King Maybe (2016)—From Timothy Hallinan, a very funny crime novel set in Hollywood

King Maybe, a character at the center of the story in Hallinan’s novel of the same name, is “the most powerful man in Hollywood.” He’s a producer with options on every worthwhile project in sight, and he sits on them to keep everyone else in suspense. He’s also a thoroughly rotten SOB. Junior is forced to deal with King Maybe as a way to avoid being killed by several hitmen, most of whom appear to be pursuing him because he has stolen a postage stamp worth a quarter-million dollars from their boss, who is himself a hitman. (No, that doesn’t make sense to me, either.) There’s no point summing up the plot of King Maybe. It’s a cockamamie story, of course. But it’s very, very funny. Read the full review.

Fields Where They Lay (2016)—Junior Bender celebrates Christmas in a Los Angeles shopping mall

The first five novels in Timothy Hallinan‘s Junior Bender series range all the way from chuckle-worthy to laugh-out-loud hilarious. The series’ sixth entry is a little different. The first third of the book sparkles with Hallinan’s customary sense of humor. Then the story begins to get serious. With few sidesteps into humor, Fields Where They Lay steadily morphs into . . . get this . . . a sentimental Christmas novel. Read the full review.

Nighttown (2018)A legendary burglar, a beautiful hitwoman, and a seven-foot killer

So, here’s the deal. Junior Bender chose to accept a cockamamie proposition to rob a deserted house for entirely too much money. Even knowing someone might try to kill him for taking the job. Junior and his girlfriend, Ronnie Bigelow, “were planning an operation to kidnap her two-year-old son from his father, a New Jersey mob doctor, . . . an expensive proposition.” Yes, consummate burglar Junior Bender is off and running on another wild and crazy caper. Read the full review.

Rock of Ages (2022)Murder and other misbehavior on a rock and roll tour

You can depend on three things when you pick up any one of the first seven books in the Junior Bender series. They’re action-packed, full of surprises, and often hilarious as well. But that’s not the case with the eighth in the series, Rock of Ages. Oh, it’s funny from time to time. And it’s a joy to read, because Timothy Hallinan’s fresh and engaging style keeps the eye moving across the page. However, the plot of the novel seems merely to provide a framework for Hallinan to write a book about a rock and roll tour and fill in the backstory of one of his recurring characters. The result is a story that, unlike the earlier entries in the series, can’t be called a thriller. A mystery, yes, but no thriller. Read the review.

About the author

Timothy Hallinan (1949-) has written three series of crime novels. His first, featuring an LA-based private eye named Simeon Grist, began publication in 1989. The Poke Rafferty series was his second. It features a travel writer attempting to make a living in Bangkok and appeared from 2007 to 2018. The Junior Bender series is his most recent. The first of the novels appeared in 2010. Hallinan himself divides his time between Santa Monica and Bangkok.

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