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.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
There is humor in this novel, of course. For example, an old Jewish man working as Santa Claus in a down-at-the-heels mall notes that “whatever you believe about the Bible, it’s an interesting book to have been written by a bunch of semiliterate late Iron Age tribesmen who hardly ever left an area about the size of New Jersey.” And Junior views one character has a man who “had a very short nose and a very long upper lip, which made it look like his mouth had been installed by someone with no previous experience.” There’s a lot of this in the book’s early chapters. Call it witty or funny, as you will. I laughed.
Fields Where They Lay (Junior Bender #6) by Timothy Hallinan (2016) 385 pages ★★★☆☆
A sentimental Christmas novel
By contrast, the end of the story becomes downright maudlin. As Hallinan writes in an Afterward, “If you’ve come this far it probably won’t surprise you when I say that my view of Christmas as we celebrate it today is equivocal. I agree with Junior when he muses in one of his (many) internal dialogues that the soundtrack for the modern celebration is a duet for sleigh bells and cash registers. And I do believe that the unremitting barrage of bright, pricey material objects—merchandise—is, on the one hand, cruel to those who can’t afford it (and to their children) and light years away, spiritually, from the event the holiday is supposed to commemorate.”
If I were to demonstrate how the story parallels this perspective on Christmas, I would spoil it for any prospective reader who hates to know what happens at the end of a book before actually reading it. Trust me. Hallinan is merely describing the philosophy embedded in the plot of this novel. As I’ve noted, the book is, indeed, a sentimental Christmas novel. It’s cleverly plotted, of course. Very cleverly. It’s just not all that funny in the end.
Some impish muse must have seized control of Hallinan when he wrote this book. He digresses at several points to lay out in detail such topics as the history of keys and locks and that of shopping malls. Interesting stuff, but I’m not sure it belongs in a Junior Bender novel. For that matter, it may also be out of place in a sentimental Christmas novel.
For related reading
I’ve reviewed all five previous Junior Bender books. To access my reviews, simply type “Junior Bender” or “Timothy Hallinan” in the Search box in the upper left-hand corner of the home page. Or go to Timothy Hallinan’s Junior Bender series of very funny comic crime novels.
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