Monday, April 11, 2016

King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan - Book Review

Here's a challenge for you: Read the first two pages of King Maybe and try to stop. It simply can't be done with this absorbing comic thriller any more than it can with almost any other book in the two series Hallinan is currently writing. King Maybe (Soho Crime, 2016, 400 pages, $17.40/14.99) takes the reader into a caper in which every move made by Junior Bender, master thief and problem solver for those who can't or won't go to the police, sends him deeper into a hole from which it appears increasingly likely he may never be able to extricate himself. He finds himself put in a double bind by a major Hollywood mogul who requires him to steal a rare stamp from an impenetrable collection, pries too deeply into his current girl friend's background, and further estranges his ex-wife enough for her to bar him from contact with their daughter. He finds himself staying in the gummiest, least appetizing, most sticky fleabag motel in Los Angeles. How can he extricate himself?

King Maybe is the fifth volume in Hallinan's Junior Bender series, written alternately with his equally engaging Poke Rafferty series, set in Bangkok, now in process going into its seventh volume. The joys of Hallinan's heroes lies in their imperfections. Junior Barber, now into his late thirties, divorced, the father of a precocious teenage daughter, and Hollywood's go-to burglar and problem solver for shady characters who must seek skilled help from outside the criminal justice system, has, throughout his career in crime, never been arrested for or convicted of any crime, despite being on the radar of the law. He has achieved sufficient success to own luxurious,secret getaway apartment in a building disguised as a dump. In public, he's practically untraceable, driving an old, white Toyota that's hardly noticeable, except for what's under the hood. Despite all these skills and his near invisibility, Junior seems to be always teetering on the edge of disaster, mostly because of his belief in his huge skills and stubborn insistence on his own infallibility, until.....

The series is set in Los Angeles and uses a widely contrasting set of locales, from seedy urban wastelands inhabited by the losers in society's roulette wheel to the tasteless mansions of the greedy moguls who've succeeded to levels permitting them to live in princely luxury. Junior easily navigates amongst these strata, finding himself comfortable across them. Hallinan draws likable good guys, nasty bad guys, and believable women and children, characters the reader comes to either care for or abhor. One of his strengths lies in his ability to turn seemingly grotesque characters into objects of concern, while taking those that might be seen as admirable into monsters. His characters are never cardboard cutouts, but nuanced people shaped by their appetites and experiences. Meanwhile, Bender negotiates this world with comfort, too little sleep, and a nagging sense that he's somehow missing the ball.

Timothy Hallinan

In King Maybe, Tim Hallinan has given his readers the best volume of this constantly improving series. The next volume of which will be a Christmas tale scheduled for release this coming Autumn. Meanwhile, he is currently at his second home in Bangkok working on the next Poke Rafferty thriller. After a long career in public relations, often related to film and television production, but not limited to it. His firm ended up representing a number of corporate clients working on film and television sets, advising them. This brought him into contact with an A-list of film stars and production people, and led to his writing scripts and later novels. This all led to his writing The Four Last Things, the first of his efforts in detective writing, the Simeon Grist series, now reissued as a boxed set containing the first three. The rest is history, as Hallinan has emerged as a highly popular, widely read, and frequently recognized major crime thriller writer. His work has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Books Based in Thailand, Crashed, a Junior Bender thriller, reached the top 100 of Kindle paid books this month. The most recent Junior Bender novel, Herbie's Game, won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Crime Novel of 2015, and the Poke Rafferty Novel, The Hot Countries was named to several Best of 2015 lists, including Library Journal's and Strand Magazine's.

As something of a pedant myself, I truly admire a writer who can show off his wide knowledge, copious research skills, vivid imagination, and wise-ass interior with such blazing dexterity. Tim Hallinan is the master of it all in current crime fiction. His eye, ear, voice for detail and penchant for literary allusion make him one of the most interesting of thriller writers. His dialogue is superb and descriptive passages crisp and clear. Perhaps his years in the film industry contributed to this. After recently abandoning a couple of plodding police and legal procedurals featuring endless exposition with little dialogue and less action, I find Hallinan's driving prose never fails to get my blood flowing and my heart beating faster.

Timothy Hallinan's latest Junior Bender novel, King Maybe (Soho Crime, 2016, 400 pages, $17.40/14.99) is sure to please his readers as well as those new to the series. Unlike much series fiction, Hallinan's work never requires readers to begin at the beginning, although once they've been bitten by the works of this fine writer, they'll want to go back to read through the series. If he's not already there, this bravura performance by author Tim Hallinan should catapult him into the first rank of American crime writers. I received King Maybe from the publisher Soho Crime through Edelweiss: Above the Tree Line and read it on my Kindle app.