The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan 

My recent reading of Todd Robinson's “The Hard Bounce” reminded me how great a classic mystery can be and how much I am going to miss Donald E. Westlake and Robert Parker.  Luckily for me and for other readers, aside from Robinson, there are some worthy successors making themselves known.  I'd say Timothy Hallinan is a good candidate, based on his mystery novel “Crashed”, which I had the pleasure of reading this week.

“Crashed” is the first of four books (and counting) featuring the charismatic thief Junior Bender, who cruises LA in a completely unremarkable Toyota Camry on purpose and prides himself on never getting caught.  As the book opens, Junior has accepted a very specific assignment in the theft of a Paul Klee painting from the empty house of a wealthy man.  Empty, that is, except for the presence of what seems to be an endless swarm of hungry Rottweilers, and Junior's escape from said canines makes for a terrific opening set piece.
As it turns out, that theft was a set piece indeed, as in Junior was being set up to take on an even bigger job.  Trey Annunziato, head of a powerful local crime syndicate, needs Junior's skill set to figure out who is trying to derail the project at hand, a high-budget porno starring everybody's favorite former sitcom witch, the drugged-out and broke Thistle Downing.  After growing up in front of America once a week to the tune of a laugh track, Thistle has hit rock bottom, and the $200,000 she'll be making to star in this adult movie is more than she's seen in a long time.  The less I say here about Trey, the better – other than to note that Hallinan has created a very detailed character, one who I would welcome seeing again in future books.

Unfortunately, aside from seeming unable to understand what she's committed to, the genuinely piteous and broken Thistle may not even get the chance to film her scenes.  Things keep going wrong on set and Trey can't figure out who the saboteur is.   Junior is tasked with making sure that Thistle shows up and goes through with her scenes, as well as trying to suss out who is behind all the trouble.  Either would be a full-time job, but Junior has no choice but to give both a try.  He recruits some help in the form of memorable characters Louie the Lost, Asian gangster “Jimmy Dean” and a crooked former pediatrician (creatively nicknamed Doc) who has been assigned by Trey to smooth Thistle out, bring her up, whatever the situation demands.  Doc seems to have a syringe for every occasion – I kept picturing the doctor from Cannonball Run here...

When Thistle endures a press conference full of hungry media vultures, followed by an encounter with her six co-stars (“chin-patches and sideburns, the ghosts of hairstyles past.  Chains jingled at the heels of boots.  None of them sparkled with conspicuous cleanliness or intelligence”), it's more than she can take and she goes on the run.  Now it's up to Junior to get her back before things get even worse for her and for the movie.

The story, overall, is nothing new – heart-of-gold big lug wants to rescue the virtuous maiden, but Junior's voice is a new one – sort of a Spenser on the even-wronger side of the law, his observations continued to make me laugh throughout.  On entering a fusty house with gold-veined wall mirrors and big dusty flower arrangements, he notes that “the place smelled like Rush Limbaugh's pillow.”  In a different sort of house later on, he refers to the furniture as “Testosterone Modern, all black leather and dark heavy wood” and I'll be damned if there is anybody among us who can't picture exactly what he's talking about.

The best thing about reading a book like this is knowing that there are two others already out there for me to read and presumably more to follow.  I love it when that happens!

Hardcover Honey verdict: Four out of five seedy movies for this one.