Timothy Hallinan and his Ethical Thief
Thievery is the kind of crime that commonly teeters on the brink between despicable and romantic, often depending on the target of the crime and the means. Many are the people who have fantasized about noble and moral thieves, with Robin Hood most likely representing the epitome of the archetype. There is something quite alluring about the well-meaning rogue, being capable of extraordinary feats most of us only dream of and having the correct moral guidelines to go along with them... ultimately making them harmless or even beneficial to the innocent. While in real life one would be extremely hard-pressed to find people of such a nature, it hasn't stopped Timothy Hallinan from creating our beloved ethical master thief Junior Bender, whose story he recently continued in King Maybe.
Without getting too encumbered by the plot, it begins with Bender bungling the heist of a rare stamp from a professional assassin. In turn, this sets off a ridiculous and complicated chain of events that only causes things to escalate further up the crime ladder, into blackmail and perhaps even murder. And thus, Junior Bender finds himself caught in the middle of some macabre revenge plot, which wouldn't be all that terrible if it wasn't for the extremely inconvenient timing. As it happens, he is currently trying his damnedest to penetrate the fortress of a studio mogul, the titular “King Maybe” himself, a completely rotten and despicable man who nevertheless happens to be the most powerful figure in Hollywood. With assassins on his trail after the rare stolen stamp fiasco, Junior sees the clock ticking down and the noose around his neck squeezing ever tighter.
Before we go further, I'd just like to assure you that you don't need to read the novels in any kind of order as each one in the series stands on its own. While you might miss out on some development, you'll never be confused as Hallinan always takes first-time readers into account. With that out of the way, let us continue.
The Importance of People
One of the most important aspects when it comes to writing a successful story are the characters. After all, if the people you follow and meet along the way don't retain your attention, or worse, turn out to be unlikable and give you no one to root for, then the story will end up failing no matter how skillfully it's written. This is why I'm quite glad that Hallinan is unbelievably talented when it comes to character creation. While technically there are plenty of secondary characters with minor roles to fulfil, it never feels as such because Hallinan devotes time to each and every one of them, ensuring they're developed into fully-fledged people with plenty of dimensions about them. It doesn't necessarily take overbearing descriptions to get the job done either: he gives us just enough information to make us realize there is much more to learn about any given person, as if they have their own history and life going on.
Junior Bender himself makes not only for a fascinating but also a hilarious protagonist whose lines of thinking are generally quite easy to follow. Though he is certainly about as far from flawless as you can get, he's a very likeable buffoon (at times anyways) and never fails to bring a smile, and sometimes even a laugh with his dry and witty humour. For those of us who have read the previous novels, we also get to see his growth as a character and human being, learning from his past mistakes and developing a new perspective towards the people in his life. If things continue at this pace, these books will start to feel like an actual biographical series.
No Seriousness Allowed
While the subject matter we're dealing with can get rather sombre at times, that doesn't prevent the author from going all out on the humour, a common thread that unites virtually all of Hallinan's works. The novel never takes itself too seriously or dramatically, to the point where it sometimes feels as if it's aware that it's actually a book. If dry, calm and witty humour is the kind you like, then I guarantee you will at least be wearing a smile throughout the read. All the funny moments seem to come very naturally and it never feels as if the laughter is being forced down upon us.
With that being said, that doesn't mean Hallinan doesn't take serious care in crafting the plot and mystery surrounding it. The story threads are indeed woven with intricate attention to detail and take us on some rather unexpected rides which, nevertheless, never feel out of place. On the contrary, even the plot twists that take us by surprise feel very logical and natural, but only in hindsight... and that I believe is perhaps one of the, if not the most important quality in writing a compelling mystery. Even under the guise of humour, the story ultimately has tremendous maturity and quality to it.
The Final Verdict
To draw the curtains on this review, it seems that even at this later stage in his career, Hallinan is still improving from one novel to the next. I'd venture to say that so far, this was the best-written Junior Bender mystery, offering a barrel of laughs and thrills which I believe will be enjoyed by anyone who wields a sense of humour and enjoys “master thief” type stories.
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