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Fields Where They Lay (Junior Bender) by Timothy Hallinan
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616957469
Date: 25 October 2016 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

L.A.'s King of Thieves, Junior Bender, is hired by a Russian mobster, Tip Poindexter, to learn why there has been a virtual plague of shoplifting at his Edgerton Mall. Poindexter is pure evil and Junior soon finds himself embroiled in a deadly car chase on Wilshire Boulevard. The pursuing vehicle crashes and its driver is later found with his face blasted away. Junior doesn't care who is shoplifting from Edgerton Mall; he doesn't become emotionally involved until one of the store owners is found brutally stabbed to death in the second floor of the abandoned Gabriel's department store. Relying on a Jewish Santa Claus and friends, past and present, Junior hunts for a vicious assassin while learning about the true meaning of Christmas.

Junior Bender, like myself, hates Christmas. It is one of the most stressful and depressing times of the year. There are presents to buy and cards to mail. Every year, I just want to skip it and go into hibernation until January. I couldn't wait to read Timothy Hallinan's Fields Where They Lay. I guess I was expecting a sweet and sappy novel to ease my stress. It didn't. Its setting is Edgerton Mall, a mall that is barely surviving the economic downturn. Edgerton Mall is in danger of being bulldozed, like so many malls in Virginia's Hampton Roads area, where I live: Tower Mall and Coliseum Mall have already been turned into strip malls; Military Circle Mall and Chesapeake Square Mall will soon suffer a similar fate.

More by Timothy Hallinan:
Junior Bender Mysteries::
* Crashed
* Little Elvises
* The Fame Thief
* Herbie's Game
* King Maybe
* Fields Where They Lay
Poke Rafferty Mysteries:
* Breathing Water
* The Queen of Patpong
* The Fear Artist
* For the Dead
* The Hot Countries

I found the first-half of Fields Where They Lay to be very depressing. I once worked at Greenbrier Mall's Animal World and was heartbroken when it closed. So many other gift shops and jewelry stores have also gone out of business. I could sympathize with the employees of Edgerton Mall. Hallinan does an expert job of creating an atmosphere of pathos among employees facing another bleak holiday season. I possessed a similar feeling when I worked my last Christmas at the Tennessee Valley Authority and so many of us were awaiting the arrival of pink slips.

As I stated earlier, some of Junior's friends come to his aid. Louie the Lost helps save his life. Two lesbian teenage girls, Anime and Lilli, use their computer hacking skills to help him solve the mystery of the surge in shoplifting. During his investigation, Junior befriends an elderly Jewish man, Shlomel Stempel, who dresses up as one of the mall's two Santas. He tells Junior about his father Morris's adventures on Christmas Eve during WWII when him and his buddies were caught behind enemy lines. Also, Junior runs into his daughter Rina and her boyfriend Tyrone at Edgerton Mall; Tyrone chides him for waiting so late to purchase Christmas presents for his family. I have several relatives who procrastinate until Christmas Eve to buy their presents. Furthermore, Junior's chronically aloof girlfriend, Ronnie Bigelow, is extremely depressed about Christmas and eventually leaves, not telling him where she is going.

Fields Where They Lay isn't the action-packed, high body count, non-stop shoot-'em-up thriller that one might expect from a Junior Bender novel. (However, there are some tense scenes: The aforementioned car chase and the assassin who shoots at Junior inside the defunct Gabriel's.) The purpose of this novel is to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and all the other holidays that were created by the Catholic church. Holidays are meant to bring us together in the spirit of giving to those of us in need, particularly the orphans, widows, and homeless. Today, we focus on giving to our children. This novel has several endings and the reader may choose to concentrate on whichever one makes them the happiest. One is sweet and nostalgic, one is violent and vindictive, and one is a promise made to a loved one that will carry over into the next novel.

I must say that of all the Junior Bender novels I have read, Fields Where they Lay has produced the greatest emotional impact for me. It made me think of Christmases past--the ones I spent with relatives who have since died and the ones I spent with friends who worked in stores at Greenbrier Mall that have since closed their doors forever. Thankfully, this novel has some interesting and humorous stories to lighten the mood. My favorite is the one about the live Koala bear that is used to smuggle a huge 12 carat emerald. Also, Louie the Lost warns a young thief about the dangers of going to prison and becoming the playmate of a 300 pound pedophile.

Fields Where They Lay is highly recommended for fans of Junior Bender. However, donít expect it to get you into the Christmas spirit. If anything, this novel makes me dread the holiday season even more. What stores are going to be closing next? While writing this review, I just learned that the Farm Fresh conveniently located down the street from where I live will be closing after Christmas.

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