Junior Bender is a thief who works for other thieves. He is a specialist. He gets all the information he needs to gain access without duress. He gets the particular information about the location of the object. He gets measurements. He gets everything a thief needs to satisfy the customer, earn his respectable gratuity for rendering good service, and clear directions on how to get out without getting caught.
When we meet Junior, he is at work. There is a bit of a hiccup when the owners guard dogs get access to the house and Junior has to resort to a ploy that a sensible person would know was doomed from the start but Junior handles his assignment perfectly. He did just what the customer ordered. Unfortunately, Junior has a terrible weakness for a man who steals to order. He cannot resist a wall safe. Junior does not resist this one. He opens it without any difficulty, grabs a handful of diamonds, and makes his escape.
He doesn’t escape for long. Junior has been set up. The owner of the house is a major player in the world of the morally corrupt. There was a camera in the safe. Junior’s job is on film. Hacker, a crooked cop, takes Junior to Wattles, more than a step up (or down, depending on how someone rates criminals), and on to Trey Annunziato. Trey is the head of the largest organized crime family in the west. Trey, it is rumored, killed the previous head of the family without a moments thought. Perhaps Trey did this because her father gave her a man’s name so that the family line wouldn’t be diluted with female names. Trey is seriously dangerous because she has a plan to redeem her reputation. She is divesting the family of most of its less salubrious enterprises but she needs a legal means of keeping the money flowing so she can take care of the people who are loyal to her. To do this she has decided to film a trilogy of porn films starring Thistle Downing.
Junior has no idea who Thistle Downing is but he learns he is probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t. Louie the Lost, one of Junior’s closest associates, fills Junior in on the star that is Thistle Downing. Louie finds a cable station that runs old TV shows and Junior discovers the enormous talent Thistle displayed as a child when her television series ran for eight years. Louis is appalled that anyone would destroy the reputation of this child. Junior realizes that therein lies the problem. Thistle is now in her twenties but to the world, including Junior’s daughter, she is still the child on the TV screen. Trey is counting on people paying to see what is left of the brilliant talent that has been diminished, but not extinguished, by drugs.
Junior’s job is to protect Thistle so that she is able to make a movie that will be as explicit as the law allows. Junior sees his job as making sure that Thistle doesn’t make the movie at all. But Trey does have that film.
Timothy Hallinan’s protagonists, be they Simeon Grist, Poke Rafferty, or Junior Bender, are men who have a strong code of moral behavior that is a bit off to the side of the straight and narrow. The characters in CRASHED are damaged people. Thistle is the epitome of the child star who is never allowed to be a child. Thistle is every twenty-something celebrity whose names and faces are used on the tabloids because they sell papers. They are used up by the end of their teens. Even Trey Annunziato is uncomfortable with the expectations that her name place upon her. She might have arranged for her father’s “accident” but she doesn’t want to make money off hookers.
Hallinan creates memorable characters. They are not always likable. but they are always interesting. But what makes Hallinan’s books so compelling is his genius in finding the perfect words. For example, “He changed his name to Ding Ji Ming and joined a Chinese gang in New York. Chinese names are written with the surname first, but if you wrote Bai Chen’s new name in the Western fashion, first name first, it would be Ji Ming Ding, which was as close as he could get in Mandarin to Jimmy Dean.” Will anyone forget Jimmy? He isn’t a main character but he is unforgettable because Hallinan explains his name.
And this, I think, is autobiographical -” You know, lots of creative people feel like someone else is actually doing the work. Some of the best writers I know say that the words come through them, from somewhere else, that the characters talk and all the writer does is try to get it down before it fades. It’s not like they’re making things up. It’s like someone is telling them the story, and they’re just, I don’t know, taking dictation.”