Little Elvises (The Junior Bender Series) by Timothy Hallinan

As anyone who has trolled for cheap e-books knows, you often get what you pay for. There is a reason there are thousands of $.99 books on Amazon and other sites. They have to be priced low or no one will read them. Are there some gems amongst them? Sure, and there is always the occasional promotional offer from publishers that means a favorite author at a low price. But let’s be honest, even in this new world of publishing many self-published books just aren’t that good.

But what if a best-selling and award-winning novelist decides to write and sell a series on his own? That is another kettle of fish entirely.  Which brings us to Timothy Hallinan‘s Junior Bender series.

I am a huge fan of his Poke Rafferty series and so was interested to see how he handled this new series available only in the electronic format.  The first book, Crashed, was great fun so I was hoping the second would cement that reaction and mean another series to enjoy.

Well, Little Elvises didn’t let me down. It was another enjoyable romp through Los Angeles with a memorable cast of characters, Hallinan’s dry and wry sense of humor, and a twisting plot that leaves you rushing to figure out the mystery at the heart of the story.

Hallinan descirbes the story this way:

[A] Los Angeles thriller-with-a-laugh-track about old-time rock-and-roll, the Philly mob, missing persons, the world’s oldest still-dangerous gangster, and a terrifying if somewhat hapless hit man named Fronts.  And a whole bunch of other stuff.

In Little Elvises everyone’s favorite burglar Junior Bender is caught between a rock and hard place. Police Detective Paulie threatens to frame Junior for a job he didn’t do unless he cooperates and helps get Uncle Vinnie out from under a murder rap. A tabloid reporter was killed and dumped on the walk of fame and the blame is pointing to Vinnie; mostly because he foolishly talked about wanting to have the reporter killed.  Junior usually tries to avoid anything involving murder but Paulie is quite pursuasive.

The case leads Bender to dig into the history of “Little Elvises” – a seemingly never ending stream of Elvis Presley clones seeking to piggyback on the famous crooner’s success. It turns out Vinnie was involved in finding these kids, getting their faces on TV and pushing their albums as far as the screaming girls would carry them (rinse, repeat, profit).

As usual, questions begin to pile up: is Vinnie mobbed up? What exactly was involved in the move from Philly to Hollywood? What happened to one particular Little Elvis that seemingly disappeared into thin air during his brief moment of fame? What is Vinnie doing in LA now that the Little Elvis production line is done?

To make things interesting Junior’s hotel landlady’s daughter is missing and might just be married to a serial killer.  Oh, and the murder victim’s wife is incredibly attractive, not all that distressed about her husband’s murder and a little hazy about her past. Of course, Junior is falling for her which means an interesting conversation with his teenage daughter. Who by the way has started dating.

Hallinan packs a lot of characters into these stories. There are a lot of plot lines and side stories but I think he pulls it off. The characters are part of the scenery. And Hallinan uses the multiple plot lines and stories to  both keep the reader guessing and to set the pace. This is Junior’s life, complex and sometimes even dangerous; full of twists and turns and “tangles” as he calls them. But, as he beings to realize, he likes it that way – it may seem cliche but it makes him feel alive.

For the reader, the result is an entertaining mix of humor, hard-boiled detective story and LA noir.  Junior Bender joins Poke Rafferty and Simeon Grist as Hallinan characters sure to have a cult following.  Add in the fact that this funny suspenseful novel is only three bucks and you have a winning combination.

Hallinan is on my must read list, if for some odd reason he isn’t on yours I recommend you get started. Of course, if you just need an inexpensive but entertaining novel to read on your Kindle or Nook the Junior Bender series is a great choice (but you really should read the Poke Rafferty series as well).

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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