Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan is the first novel in a series featuring Junior Bender, a famous burglar, who in this story doesn’t only have to steal but also investigate a crime in the making.

Junior Bender is a Los Angeles burglar with a magic touch. Since he first started breaking into houses when he was fourteen years old, he’s never once been caught. But now, after twenty-two years of an exemplary career, Junior has been blackmailed by Trey Annunziato, one of the most powerful crime bosses in LA, into acting as a private investigator on the set of Trey’s porn movie venture, which someone keeps sabotaging.

It’s not easy even to try to describe who or what Junior Bender exactly is. He’s a burglar, he’s a thief, but he’s also someone with a good heart, who cares for people in need, who’s willing to kill a bad person in order to save the life of a good one. And he is, like this book, quite funny. First things first though. Let’s allow him to introduce himself:

…I’m weak.
I think for everyone in the world, there’s something you could dangle in front of them, something they would run onto a freeway at rush hour to get. When I meet somebody, I like to try to figure out what that is for that person. You for diamonds, darling, or first editions of Dickens? Jimmy Choo shoes or Joseph Cornell box? And you, mister, a thick stack of green? A troop of Balinese girl scouts? A Maserati with your monogram on it?
For me, it’s a wall safe.

Now let’s meet Wattles one of the bad guys, who has a great sense of humor, and quite a body:

Wattles himself was a guy who had looked for years like he would die in minutes. He was extremely short, with a body that suggested an open umbrella, a drinker’s face the color of rare roast beef, and a game leg he dragged around like an anchor.

Well, that man may sound funny but he’s quite clever, and he makes a fool out of Junior when he hires him to break into a house and steal a painting. He does not only not pay him his fare share but he also blackmails him into working for Trey Annuziato, a mob boss who’s trying to clean the family’s act and go legit, but in order to do so she first has to shoot an adult movie starring a famous actor whose glory days had come to pass. Someone is trying to sabotage the project and it’s up to Junior to find who and why.

This job will not be an easy ride for him though. He is smart, he is well-connected and he’s willing to do anything to get out of the dead end he found himself into. But things never seem to go his way, while not only criminals but also the cops seem to follow his every move. He knows what he has to do, he knows the way to do it, but in order to accomplish that he has to overcome many obstacles, and even work under the nose of the police.

The key to being inconspicuous is to look like you know where you’re going and why. So I made a show of glancing at my watch and then turned my head away from the cops, like someone making sure he isn’t about to step in front of a speeding bus, and crossed the street, just another citizen on a perfectly upright errand. Every step, I expected to hear Tallerico’s voice yelling for me to stop, and every step I didn’t…

He got lucky this time, but just this once. At the other times he had to face packs of dogs, thugs, corrupted cops, mobsters and even a couple of kids who were street-smart and sly enough to make his life difficult.

But this story is not only about some burglar, a mystery, and bits and pieces of almost choreographed action; it’s also about the showbiz.

Everybody in show business loves everybody else so much, it’s darling this and darling that, people fall in love and drink together and swear eternal friendship and then the shoot ends and we all lose each other’s phone numbers.

Hollywood is the land of fantasy and people just love to make stories about each other, and spread the rumors around and thus create out of them a reality. Most of the stories are just that, stories, and sometimes it’s not that difficult to crash one of those tales into pieces. Here’s what Junior sees when he visits the huge house of former movie mogul:

The first myth to bite the dust was the cash tucked beneath the wall-to-walls. The floor was dark stone, buffed to a dull shine by several centuries’ worth of feet, and only the central quarter-mile or so was covered by carpet, an enormous all-silk Afghan that was probably older than the house. A couple of couches, two deep-looking chairs, and some dark wood tables had been arranged in front of a fireplace big enough to host the Chicago fire, with room left over for a couple of neighborhood barbecues. In defiance of the warm weather, a fire was roaring in it, nothing much, just a couple of trees’ worth of wood.

Crashed is a book that has it all: mystery, humor, action, a great plot and some unforgettable characters. It also talks about the way some situations can bring the best or the worst out of people and how money and glory destroy lives. Finally it seems to highlight the fact that people who are not loved are bound to fail in their lives. Here we have a great novel, by a great writer.

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