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Herbie's Game (Junior Bender #4) by Timothy Hallinan
Cover Artist: Katherine Grames
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616954291
Date: 15 July 2014 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Hollywood professional thief, Junior Bender, discovers the remains of his mentor and father figure, Herbie Mott. Junior was a young man when he met Herbie while they were burglarizing the same house. Herbie saw great potential in Junior and taught him everything he knew about becoming a successful burglar. To Herbie, it was a game with many rules. While investigating Herbie's murder, Junior learns that everyone whose name was on a list of disconnects (people who secretly pass money from one person to another until it is in the hands of a hit man) have been targeted for death. Junior must associate with some bizarre characters as he endeavors to stay alive and remain one step ahead of a vindictive killer.

Once again, Timothy Hallinan has transported his readers into the criminal world's version of the Land of Oz. The setting is Holly Weird, except it is even weirder in the fourth installment of the Junior Bender mystery series, Herbie's Game. I'm reminded of those James Bond 007 movies where the villains, assassins, and gorgeous, scantily clad babes had strange names. Everyone Junior encounters uses an alias or nickname that befits their appearance. The tall, skinny Bones is a hit man whose bones easily break because of osteogenesis imperfect. One might feel sympathy for Bones if they didn't know he was a murderer. Junior's friend Wattles, who once tried to kill Junior, wattles like a penguin because he's fat. Handkerchief Harrison is a psychic drag queen whose trademark is the designer handkerchiefs he always carries. The list of weirdos goes on and on and on.

Herbie's Game is a very emotional installment in the series. The reader learns a lot about Junior's past, most of it is not too pleasant. Abandoned by his own father, Junior looks upon Herbie as a surrogate father. Now Herbie is dead and Junior feels guilt and sorrow for not preventing it; later, he learns that Herbie is not the man he thought he was. Considering they all live in Tinsel Town, the City of Lies, this shouldn't be too surprising.

Fortunately, Herbie's death has drawn Junior closer to his own daughter, Rina, his ex-wife, Kathy, and his girlfriend Ronnie. Like many men who are going through a middle age crisis, Junior is filled with regrets; he wishes he'd been a better father and a better husband. Most of all, he regrets his choice of occupation. His melancholia was so contagious that he had me regretting my own choice of occupation.

Like all the other novels in the Junior Bender series, Herbie's Game is action packed. Junior Merle Bender (Yes, his middle name is Merle) gets beat up and shot at on numerous occasions. I laughed and giggled many times, however, because Junior manages to maintain his witty sense of humor throughout his ordeals. After all, his occupation is a game that could end anytime. Life is a game.

Herbie's Game has enough twists and turns to keep mystery fans happy and enough dead bodies to keep gore hounds, like myself, satisfied. But I think it is the endless list of bizarre characters that made me like this novel more than its predecessors. Also, it has a lot of heart in respect to Junior desiring to become a better person. I desire for--no, I demand--Timothy Hallinan to deliver another enjoyable Junior Bender mystery. No games, please.

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