JUNIOR BENDER UNTANGLES ONE OF THE WEIRDEST MYSTERIES IN TINSELTOWN
LA burglar Junior Bender has (unfortunately) developed a reputation as a competent private investigator for crooks. The unfortunate part about this is that regardless of whether he solves the crime or not, someone dangerous is going to be unhappy with him, either his suspect or his employer.
Now Junior is being bullied into proving aging music industry mogul Vinnie DiGaudio is innocent of the murder of a nasty tabloid journalist he'd threatened to kill a couple times. It doesn’t help that the dead journalist’s widow is one pretty lady, and she’s trying to get Junior to mix pleasure with business. Just as the investigation is spiraling out of control, Junior's hard-drinking landlady begs him to solve the disappearance of her daughter, who got involved with a very questionable character. And, worst news of all, both Junior's ex-wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Rina, seem to have new boyfriends. What a mess.
Hallinan's second Junior Bender mystery (after 2010's Crashed) sends the L.A. burglar/PI on a journey into pop music's supposedly innocuous 1950s past, mixing light and dark humor to enjoyable if uneven effect. Framed by LAPD Lt. Paulie DiGaudio for a residential robbery gone violently wrong, Bender finds he can restore his (relatively) good name by clearing DiGaudio's uncle, Vinnie, a now retired, but still mobbed-up, music promoter, of a separate crime, the murder of tabloid hack Derek Bigelow. Junior discovers that Vinnie's old lineup of faux-Elvis teen idols may be key to the crime, while he works on his testy relationships with Derek's beguiling New Jersey widow, Ronnie; his own 13-year-old daughter, Rina; and the shadowy gangland powerbroker Irwin Dressler. The skewed, Runyonesque Southern California setting, epitomized by Junior's home, the seedy but festively Yule-themed Marge 'n Ed's North Pole motel, promises much for further outings, despite occasional lapses in taste and a shaky conclusion.