Saturday, December 10, 2016

Timothy Hallinan, The Fields Where They Lay

Timothy Hallinan, The Fields Where They Lay
Soho Crime © 2016
eISBN 978-1-61695-747-6

Junior Bender, professional thief, is dragooned into trying to discover why shoplifting has spiked at a failing LA shopping mall.  The mall, as it happens, is owned by a group of Russian bad guys.  [Junior has to deal, mostly, with one of them who has re-styled himself Tip Poindexter, to whom he refers (to himself and to us) as Vlad.]  Most of the stores are near-failing (and their owners are pretty cognizant of it,, as Junior discovers when he tries to slip out of one of the stores with a bit of merchandise).  It also has two Santas--Dwayne, the drunk Santa and Shlomo, the good, but Jewish Santa.  And of course, we have not only shoplifting, but a murder--or a shop-owner, Bonnie, at whose store Junior got caught trying to shoplift.  And Shlomo, as it turns out, has a tale to tell, about his father and World War II.  It might seem that this tale, told in three parts, is extraneous, but it actually quite integral to the story, if not the mystery.  Junior also has to deal with his issues with Christmas, with the woman he loves, and with his 14-year-old daughter.  At one point, I was uncertain about the book--we get treated to a multi-page (accurate, but unnecessary) disquisition on the rise and decline of the shopping mall, which brings the narrative to a crashing halt.  But we recover, Junior unravels the shoplifting, solves the murder, and makes peace with himself.  And the last half of the book (or more) is extraordinary, and somewhat heart-rending.  Perhaps the best Christmas-themed mystery I have ever read.

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