"Burglar Junior Bender may just be our favorite literary P.I."—Entertainment Weekly
It’s three days until Christmas and Junior Bender, Hollywood’s fasttalking fixer for the felonious, is up to his ears in shopping mall Santas, Russian mobsters, desperate holiday shoppers, and (’tis the season) murder.
The halls are decked, the deck is stacked, and here comes that jolly old elf. Junior Bender, divorced father of one and burglar extraordinaire, finds himself stuck inside the Edgerton Mall, and not just as a last-minute shopper (though he is that too). Edgerton isn’t exactly the epicenter of holiday cheer, despite its two Santas, canned Christmas music, chintzy bows, and festive lights. The mall is a fossil of an industry in decline; many of its stores are closed, and to make matters worse, there is a rampant shoplifting problem.
The murderous Russian mobster who owns the place has decided it takes a thief to catch a thief and hires Junior—under threat—to solve the shoplifting problem for him. But Junior’s surveillance operation doesn’t go well: as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are dead and it’s obvious that shoplifting is the least of the mall’s problems. To prevent further deaths, possibly including his own, Junior must confront his dread of Christmas—both present and past.
Edgar-finalist Hallinan deserves to win an Edgar for his ingeniously plotted, often hilarious sixth Junior Bender novel (after King Maybe). Junior, a thief who has "probably stolen more things than most people own," owes a favor to a San Fernando Valley, Calif., crime boss, and agrees to work for a scary Russian thug who has adopted the name Tip Poindexter. The Edgerton Mall, which Tip owns, has recently experienced a dramatic spike in shoplifting, and Tip demands that Junior find out why. The assignment is depressing for Junior, since it comes just days before Christmas, which has always been an emotionally trying holiday for him. The investigation pays off with a brilliant solution that few will anticipate, and the sophisticated story line is only one of the book's highlights. Another is the masterly way in which Hallinan creates his own world-weary Chandlerian narrative voice (a golf club Junior visits is "one of the Valley's shiny new gathering places for people whose money was recently acquired and whose manners hadn't yet been sanded down into the smooth indifference that marks multiple generations of wealth"). Readers will eagerly await Junior's next adventure.