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The Fame Thief (Junior Bender #3) by Timothy Hallinan
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952808
Date: 02 July 2013 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

At thirteen, Wanda Altshuler was abducted by her mom who drove her from Scranton, New Jersey, to Hollywood. Her mom pimped her among the film moguls. As the years passed by, Wanda, who was now known as Dolores La Marr, went from small speaking parts to leading lady.

On June 23, 1950, she was in the company of some mobsters in a Las Vegas hotel room; someone made a telephone call and she was arrested during a police raid. Later, she was forced to provide testimony to the Kefauver Committee. Her career was ruined.

Sixty-two years later, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, Irwin Dressler, hires Junior Bender, a type of detective for crooks, to learn who stole Dolores' career. Soon after, Dolores is brutally murdered, along with a slew of other aging Hollywood has-beens from the fifties.

Timothy Hallinan's Junior Bender series comes to a violent, dramatic end with his best novel yet, The Fame Thief, following Little Elvises and Crashed.

Some people tragically spend most of their lives reminiscing about the past because they feel the best part of their lives are behind them. They can't go forward. They are trapped in aging bodies that are constant reminders that life is cruel, especially life in Hollywood, and that fame is fleeting and can be easily stolen. I can't imagine the depression that a crippled Dolores must have felt living alone like a recluse in her luxurious Wedgwood apartment surrounded by photographs of when she was young and glamorous. The Fame Thief made me reflect on my own life and how I will look back upon it ten and twenty years from now. It also made me want to spend more time with my relatives, some of whom are approximately the same age as the elderly victims in this novel.

Junior is still moving from one obscenely tacky motel to another. The latest is named Valentine Shmalentine and, unfortunately, its primary decor consists of pink valentines. He soon learns that Irwin Dressler knows all about his motel hopping and that he also secretly leases an apartment at the Wedgwood. Junior is still dating Ronnie but she has only a few scenes in the novel. His daughter, Rina, is the same age as Dolores was when she first arrived in Hollywood. I thought the two girls made for an interesting comparison. Rina is much more mature and intelligent than Dolores was at that age. Rina, who shares a great relationship with both parents, does internet searches for her dad. She is still dating her black boyfriend, Tyrone. Junior's ex-wife, Kathy, is dating a new guy: a slimy real estate salesman, Dick Stivik, who is intent on selling her home, buying a less expensive one and pocketing the difference.

The Fame Thief was as hilarious as the others. My favorite scenes involved Dolores La Marr bickering with her rival, the malicious, snobbish Olivia Dupont. They reminded me of Crystal Carrington and Alexis Colby of Dynasty when they fought. I laughed out loud when Doug Trent said, upon learning that Olivia was still alive, "She'll live forever, sucking the blood of the unborn." Speaking of vampires, The Fame Thief has a supernatural element that is not present in the previous two Junior Bender novels. Dolores' apartment is haunted by a ghost. Be forewarned, this ghost plays an extremely small role and could've been removed without significantly affecting the plot. The ghost may be one of the reasons why Hallinan had so much fun writing this novel, as he expressed in his Author's Note. Perhaps the ghost is his way of letting the reader know that death is not the end and that eventually nice people are destined to find happiness.

On the cover of Timothy Hallinan's The Fame Thief is the black silhouette of a beautiful young woman lying in repose behind the skyline of the magical kingdom of Hollywood. I am reminded of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty. What really happened after Princess Aurora awoke? Did she live happily ever after or live alone, imprisoned inside a luxury apartment like Dolores? The Fame Thief ends happily for Junior; unfortunately, this can't be said for many other characters.

There is enough gruesome violence, tense drama, and oddball characters in The Fame Thief to satisfy any fan of modern noir. The Junior Bender novels are best read in their order of publication even though they can be read out of sequence. They are highly recommended for mystery fans, like myself, who enjoy humorous, but violent, noir. I once fantasized about becoming an actor in Hollywood; after reading the Junior Bender novels, I want to avoid Tinseltown like the plague.

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