I’ve been a devotee of Timothy Hallinan’s work since I was asked to review A Nail Through the Heart, the first of his Poke Rafferty series. The Rafferty books started strong and got better, capped (so far) by last year’s The Queen of Patpong. Knowing how much effort Hallinan puts into the Rafferty books, and the emotional fatigue that must have been induced in writing Queen, it was no surprise when he opted for something lighter for his next project.
Junior Bender is a burglar. Not some cheap smash-and-grab asshole, Junior works mainly on commission, stealing specific things on demand for pre-set prices. When stealing a Paul Klee painting from the home of a notorious gangster goes south on him, Junior finds himself engaged with two organized crime operations, a crooked cop, and the pornography industry.
The Rafferty books always had laughs in them, no matter how serious the content. Hallinan has a good ear and light touch with his humor, and an appreciation of how characters have the capacity for it—even if unintentional—during the toughest moments. Crashed is intended to be more of a humorous read, as the story breezes along with more odd circumstances and quirky characters than can be found in any of the Rafferty books.
That’s doesn’t mean it’s fluff. The core subject matter is life and death, and Junior has a harder interior than may first appear. Thistle Downing is a cautionary character, and the issues surrounding Junior, his ex-wife, and their daughter are real enough to fit far more standard occupations than professional thief. The ending isn’t sure until it’s over. Still, the subtext is lighter, the smiles more frequent, and the cast more inclined to banter than in the Rafferty books.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of the writing. Hallinan writes scenes as memorable as anyone working today, and his descriptions are Chandler-esque at times, without sounded dated or derivative.
It’s easy to see why Hallinan would need a departure from Poke Rafferty’s increasingly dark adventures. Crashed is just what could be hoped for, something different that still has the basic elements that make Hallinan worth reading in the first place.
(By the way, if you haven’t read The Queen of Patpong, you really ought to get busy.)