HERBIE’S GAME by Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan
July 2014
Soho Press

Things are getting personal for Junior Bender. Wattles the gangster comes to see Junior about getting some information back. His office was burglarized and an important piece of paper was stolen. A piece of paper that listed the names of a chain of criminals that ultimately ended in a hit. Wattles is understandably nervous, and he convinces Junior to help him out. There’s only one person Junior can think of who could have pulled off the heist, especially in the distinctive style in which it was done—Junior’s former mentor, Herbie. When Junior pays Herbie a visit, he finds that someone has beat him to it—Herbie has been tortured to death. Junior’s rage and desire for revenge is a deep well. Herbie was more than a mentor for Junior—he was a father figure. Junior starts down the list of criminals, trying to untangle the knots in the story to figure out who ordered the hit—and who is looking for revenge.

I want to shout from rooftops about how much I love the Junior Bender series, but it’s probably not the most effective way of getting the word out. This book is the fourth installment of Junior Bender’s exploits, and another excellent entry. It is a little more melancholy than the other books, but this case is also much more personal than the rest. After Junior’s own father left, Herbie stepped into the role, teaching him all he knew about the game of burglary along the way. After Herbie’s death, and while trying to avenge him, Junior learns things about Herbie that perhaps he would have rather not known—leaving him, and us, to wrestle with the question of how well we can ever really know someone else. And also whether or not it matters in the end.

One of the many things I love about these books is the paradox of Junior himself. He is a burglar by profession, and an unrepentant one. But he is also a decent person, with a good heart, and he works hard to do what he thinks is right and take care of the people he loves, as well as those he comes across in whom he sees something good. Junior Bender’s ability to take a beating and still crack wise also reminds me of Chandler’s Marlowe; Chandler’s Los Angeles gets a face-lift to bring it into modern times, but the humor and setting are the same. And like Chandler, Hallinan is razor sharp on the page.

Start with the first book in the series, CRASHED. You won’t regret it.
Erica Ruth Neubauer