As a long-time fan of Tim's writing, I was thrilled to get the advance copy of this book that releases in October. I first got acquainted with his work when I was reviewing for BloggerNews.com and received a copy of Breathing Water, a Poke Rafferty Thriller.
That was back in 2010, and I have read a number of other books in the Poke Rafferty series, as well as the Junior Bender series. It's hard to say which I like better, as they both are so well-written and packed with fascinating characters and interesting places.
Junior Bender is not your ordinary thief. He's a cultured thief, if cultured and thief could actually be used in the same sentence, but as you get to know him, you recognize that he is well-read and very knowledgeable about history, geography, art, and jewelry. But of course a thief has to know a lot about art and jewelry.
In this story, Junior, who also works as a private investigator - "it takes a crook to know one" he is fond of saying - has been hired to find out who is shoplifting in Edgerton Mall. His first thought is, why bother, as the mall is obviously about to go under, but the job is one that is hard to refuse. His client is a Russian mobster. One does not simply say "no" to a mobster.
There are a number of references to other literary works throughout the story, and I chuckled when I came to the place where Junior is trying to elude a killer in the dark abandoned upstairs of a shopping mall. In a manic moment, Junior thinks, "I had a vision, about a half a second long, of tying Mini-Me hand and foot with a glittering Christmas garland and driving a stake of holly through his heart Ebenezer Scrooge fashion."
Having directed many productions of "Scrooge" at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, I had to laugh at that, and I could hear my actor saying in his very precise British accent, "And drive a stake of holly through his heart, I should."
Woven through the story, like a thread from a fine tapestry, is the relationship between Junior and his girlfriend Ronnie. Ronnie is secretive, deflecting every effort by Junior to learn anything about her past or her family. Now, just two days before Christmas, Junior is trying to figure out what might be an appropriate gift for someone who doesn't even want to talk about what they might be doing on December 25th. Maybe a clam shell?
For me, one of the most enjoyable things about the Junior Bender series, as well as the other books by this author, is the great dialogue. Tim has a masterful way of using dialogue to show the relationship between characters without having to detail the history of that relationship. For instance, in this story Junior is having a conversation with his friend Louie, who is also a very shady character but a loyal friend. They're in the mall talking about Christmas spirit and presents and Louie says, "You know what your problem is?"
To which Junior responds, "A Russian gangster? The fact that someone tried to kill me last night? Being stuck in this mall? That music?"
"You ain't bought anything for anybody yet. How can you enjoy Christmas if you're not thinking about giving people stuff?"
"People?" I said.
"You know," he said, stopping. "There may be a limit to how long I can stand you, so why don't you give me my money?"
In that scene, and a couple others with Louie, the reader discovers the length and breadth of this relationship and has such a good time doing so.
There were many places where I underlined a sentence or passage that either made me laugh, or made me stop and think. I will leave you with a thinking quote, "Lists are so much more satisfying than emotions. An emotion is a cloud, but a list is a stairway."
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Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.