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Little Elvises (Junior Bender #2) by Timothy Hallinan
Cover Artist: Katherine Grames
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952778
Date: 29 January 2013 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Professional Hollywood thief, Junior Bender, is being blackmailed into helping an aging talent scout, Vincent DiGaudio, discover who is framing him for the murder of a slimy reporter, Derek Bigelow. Bigelow's corpse was found on Hollywood Boulevard, lying on the star of famed singer, Giorgio. The incredibly handsome Giorgio was one of the "Little Elvises"--aspiring performers bearing a resemblance to Elvis Presley--who were represented by DiGaudio. Meanwhile Junior graciously agrees to help his landlady, Marge Enderby, locate her missing daughter, Doris; she may have become the latest victim of a vicious serial killer, Arthur Love Johnson.

I dare say that I enjoyed Timothy Hallinan's latest Junior Bender mystery, Little Elvises, more than its predecessor, Crashed. Once again, the flawed, but lovable, Junior becomes ensnared in a Hollyweird mystery that has more nuts than a Planters factory. Seriously, there is a 350 pound hit man, Fronts, who likes to carve tattoos on the front of his massive physique and has a high tolerance for pain. There is also Vincent DiGaudio's personal assistant, Popsie--a former wrestler, Hilda, Queen of the Gestapo--who is extremely rude and obnoxious to his guests. The depressed, functional alcoholic, Marge, operates the North Pole motel which is always garishly decorated for Christmas in memory of her late husband Ed, who, like many of us, yearned for that warmhearted, nostalgic Christmas spirit all year long.

Many people can't escape the past. Sometimes living in the present can be so painful that they must remain hidden in the past. Beauty fades (sometimes it is destroyed) but our desire for it never does. Vincent DiGaudio strove for the perfect male performer, one who sang like an angel and also possessed the face of one. For him, it was always impossible to find the perfect combination of these two. The theme of capturing beauty and imprisoning it forever has been a longstanding one in literature. A classic example is John Fowles's chilling thriller, The Collector. Furthermore, the serial killer in Little Elvises is a collector of beautiful dead women.

The novel is peppered throughout with Junior's unique brand of sarcastic humor. Sometimes I laughed out loud. For example, he tries to explain to his latest squeeze, Ronnie (Derek Bigelow's widow), that his wife Kathy and he divorced because they were too different: "If we'd had any less in common, it would have been an interspecies marriage." Though Junior is dating Ronnie, he is upset whenever he stops by Kathy's house uninvited and espies her boyfriend, Bill. He is also perturbed to learn that his beloved daughter, Rina, who is only thirteen, is likewise dating. Rina plays a significant role in the plot by conducting computer searches for her father.

We already know that Junior is flawed. However, his heart does have a soft spot. He is working hard, pro bono, to locate Marge's missing daughter, Doris, even though mounting evidence supports his growing fear that she may already be dead.

With Junior's humorous remarks on life and his oddball assortment of cohorts and enemies, Little Elvises begins as a pleasant respite from my usual fare of mysteries. However, the pacing really increases when the reader learns there is a serial killer afoot. I love reading about serial killers, the more vicious the better. The ending was a rather surprising one that made me laugh out loud. Only in a Junior Bender novel is the reader going to find an ending that is so delightfully strange.

Little Elvises is highly recommended for fans of humorous noir--the type that makes you die with laughter. I look forward to reading Timothy Hallinan's next novel in the Junior Bender mystery trilogy, The Fame Thief. It focuses on Hollyweird's most notorious mobster, Irwin Dressler, who has become a movie mogul, capable of ending both careers and lives.

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