Herbie's Game (Junior Bender Series #4)

Herbie's Game (Junior Bender Series #4)

4.6 6
by Timothy Hallinan

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It’s everyday business when Wattles, the San Fernando Valley’s top “executive crook,” sets up a hit. He establishes a chain of criminals to pass along the instructions and the money, thereby ensuring that the hitter doesn’t know who hired him. Then one day Wattles finds his office safe open and a single item missing: the piece of


It’s everyday business when Wattles, the San Fernando Valley’s top “executive crook,” sets up a hit. He establishes a chain of criminals to pass along the instructions and the money, thereby ensuring that the hitter doesn’t know who hired him. Then one day Wattles finds his office safe open and a single item missing: the piece of paper on which he has written the names of the crooks in the chain. When people associated with the chain begin to pop up dead, the only person Wattles can turn to to solve his problem is Junior Bender, professional burglar and begrudging private eye for crooks.
But Junior already knows exactly who took Wattles’s list: the signature is too obvious. It was Herbie Mott, Junior’s burglar mentor and second father—and when Junior seeks him out to discuss the missing list, he finds Herbie very unpleasantly murdered. Junior follows the links in the chain back toward the killer, and as he does, he learns disturbing things about Herbie’s hidden past. He has to ask himself how much of the life he’s lived for the past twenty years has been of his own making, and how much of it was actually Herbie’s game.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Junior Bender takes on his most personal case yet in Hallinan’s rollicking fourth mystery featuring the master safe—and joke—cracker (after 2013’s The Fame Thief). When Wattles, a notorious crook based in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, realizes that he’s missing a very important piece of paper, a list of all the “disconnects,” or shady men, he hired to pull off a job, he asks Bender to retrieve the document. Bender’s first stop, however, ends in tragedy: when he calls on his mentor and father figure, Herbie Mott, he finds that Herbie has been tortured and killed. Herbie taught Bender everything he knows about stealing, but Bender is in for a shock when unsavory details of Herbie’s life come to light, with all-too-real consequences for the wisecracking thief and those close to him. Hallinan injects what could be a stale revenge tale with his signature dry wit, making Bender a laconic antihero to admire. Agent: Bob Mecoy, Bob Mecoy Literary. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for the Junior Bender series
"Everything I've come to expect in a Hallinan novel: indelible, complex characters; fantastic plot; and moments of hold-your-breath suspense."
—Charlaine Harris
"Bender's quick wit and smart mouth make him a boon companion on this oddball adventure."
New York Times Book Review
"Could not stop laughing. Tim Hallinan is sharp as a blade, has a wicked eye for human nature and keeps the reader guessing and rooting for Junior Bender all the way."
—Helen Simonson
"Great narrative voice, complex plot, 3-D characters. Hallinan's deft comic tone and colorful characters have earned him comparisons to Donald Westlake and Carl Hiaasen. Check it out now."
—Nancy Pearl
"If Carl Hiaasen and Donald Westlake had a literary love child, he would be Timothy Hallinan."
—Julia Spencer-Fleming
"A modern-day successor to Raymond Chandler."
Los Angeles Daily News
"Dangerously outrageous."
Associated Press
Kirkus Reviews
When a crook is burgled, it’s not a good day for anybody.Usually, Wattles [no first name] the contractor is the one breaking the law. He’s perfected a system of murder for hire that involves something like six degrees of separation between the trigger man and himself. So when someone breaks into his house and steals his list of “disconnects”—people who call people who call people who shoot people—he’s both surprised and annoyed. But not too annoyed to summon Junior Bender (Little Elvises, 2013, etc.) and offer him $10,000 for the safe return of the list. Junior has an even more compelling reason for being interested in the case. It’s clear from the burglar’s methods that he was none other than Herbie Mott, the master thief who taught Junior everything he knew. By the time he catches up with Herbie, however, it’s too late to ask him anything about the theft, because he’s suffered a fatal heart attack right in the middle of being tortured by experts. It’s clear that the other disconnects are in danger, though it’ll be equally clear to fans of the series that Junior won’t care nearly as much about what happens to any of them. And a good thing, too, because Herbie may have given Junior a bum steer from beyond the grave. Ruben Ghorbani, the knee-breaker Herbie assumed would kill him if anybody did, may have found Jesus. That would leave the field wide open, and since practically everybody Junior runs into is a criminal of one sort or another, this job could take quite a while.As usual, Hallinan devotes such loving attention to a host of minor characters, all framed by Junior’s deadpan narrative, that the whodunit is the least important ingredient in this shaggy, overstuffed caper.

Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Junior Bender Series, #4
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Part I

“So you see, kid,” Herbie said, “we’re like Robin Hood. We steal from the rich and we give to the poor.”
“How do we give to the poor?” I asked.
“I said we were like Robin Hood, not a slavish imitation of Robin Hood.”
“So we’re sort of like Robin Hood,” I said.
“Yeah,” Herbie said. “If you squint.”

Chapter One

Eighteen minutes in—just two minutes short of my limit—I was ready to write the place off.
        It was a very nice house in a very nice part of the Beverly Hills flats. A very nice car was usually standing in the driveway, a BMW SUV so new the odometer hadn’t hit the hundreds yet, and I could smell that canned new-car fragrance through the closed windows. The locks on the house’s doors, it seemed to me during my week of taking the occasional careless-looking careful look, would yield to a persuasive argument. No bothersome alarm tip-offs. Inside, I was sure, would be a lot of very nice stuff.
       And I was right: there was a lot of nice stuff, although most of it was too big to lift. A European sensibility had expressed itself in a lot of stone statuary, some of it very possibly late Roman and some of it, for variety’s sake, Khmer, plus a gorgeous polychrome German Madonna in painted linden wood, possibly from the sixteenth century. As tempting as these pieces were, they were all too heavy to hoist, too bulky to carry, and too hard to fence, especially since my premier fence for fine art, Stinky Tetweiler, and I were on the outs.
       So I was adjusting to the idea that the evening would be a write-off as I went very carefully through the drawers in the bedroom, putting everything back exactly where I’d found it and counting down the last ninety seconds. And, as is so often the case, the moment when I gave up was also the moment when fate, with its taste for cheap melodrama, uncoiled itself in the darkness, and my knuckles bounced off one of the things that sends a little sugar bullet straight through a burglar’s heart: a jewelry box. It was cardboard, not velvet, but it was a jewelry box, and it rattled when I picked it up.
       Ever since my mentor, Herbie Mott, taught me the rules of burglary, I’ve practically salivated at the sound of something rattling in a small box.
       But . . . the lid was stuck. It felt like it hadn’t been popped in years, and the accumulation of humidity and air-born schmutz had created a kind of impromptu mucilage. The word schmutz, I reflected as I ran a little pen-knife in between the box and the lid, had entered Middle English via Yiddish and German, where it meant, as it means now, dirt, specifically, a kind of sticky, yankyour- fingers-back-fast dirt.
       The top pulled free from the box with a little sucking noise, like an air-kiss. I shook out one—no, two—objects and aimed my little penlight at them.
       And heard the hum of an engine: a car, coming up the driveway.
       Hurrying will kill you more often than taking your time will. I looked at the two objects closely, listening for the motor to cut out, listening for the slam of a car door.
       One of the pieces I recognized immediately, a glittering little slice of history and bravery—valor, even—in platinum, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. It looked real, it looked fine, it looked like about $12,000 from a good fence.
       The brakes let out an obliging soprano note as the car stopped, and the engine cut out.
       The other piece, well . . .
       The other piece looked like something that had been made in the dark by someone who was following directions over the radio or some other medium with no replay button. Slap it together from whatever was at hand, don’t make a second pass, don’t look at it too closely. It bore a sort of ur-resemblance to the $12,000 one, in the same way that a supposedly crude revenge play that scholars call the ur-Hamlet is thought to be the direct ancestor and inspiration of Shakespeare’s greatest hit, but this piece wouldn’t have fooled an inanimate object at forty paces.
       A car door closed. Then I heard another.
       The two pieces were in the same box for a reason. I replaced the lid, slipped the box into my pocket, put the drawer back in its original order, and let myself out the back just as the front door opened.

Chapter Two
The Only Piece of Paper That Could Kill Him

Wattles once told me he was always happy in the morning because he hadn’t hurt anybody yet.
       So it’s easy to imagine him singing something late-sixties/early-seventies—“Take It Easy,” maybe, or “Born Free”—as he clumped out of the elevator in the black-glass, medium-rise office building where he did all the bad things that comprised the business of Wattles, Inc. Easy to imagine him, sport-jacketed and red-faced, following his beach-ball gut down the hall, dragging his left leg behind him like a rejected idea and looking, as he had for twenty years, like he’d be dead in fifteen minutes.
       His hair would still be damp. His shave would be aggressively successful. He’d reek of Royall Lyme aftershave, forty bucks a bottle, with the little lead crown on the cap. As he would say, class stuff. Taken together, then: all these characteristics identified Wattles as he undid the cheap locks on the outer door to his office.
       Identified him externally, that is. Wattles’s interior landscape, a column of dark, buzzing flies looking impatiently for the day’s first kill, was tucked safely out of sight.
       Tiffany, the new receptionist, was, as always, at her desk, wearing her permanent expression: pretty in kind of a plastic way, happy, perpetually surprised enough at something to be saying, Oh! A brunette this week, she was wearing her LaLa the French Maid costume, although Wattles actually preferred Nurse Perky. Still, change was good. He’d had to replace his first receptionist, Dora, when a truly lethal crook named Rabbits Stennet had nearly discovered her secret, which was that she had been modeled on his wife, Bunny, about whom Rabbits went all Othello whenever anyone even looked at her. Rabbits had once backed his car over a parking attendant at Trader Vic’s because the man had taken the liberty of turning on Bunny’s seat-warmer.
       So Dora had been hastily shredded in bulk, all two hundred of her, and replaced by Tiffany: same latex blow-up doll, different nose, different eye color, different wigs.
       Wattles had probably squinted at Tiffany as he went to the office’s inner door and its array of very good locks, because she was sagging a little. He might have heard the soft hiss of a leak, which meant that he would have to find the little battery-powered pump and top her off.
       Or maybe just pop the valves and let her deflate, replace her with another one. After all, there were more than three hundred and fifty of her boxed up in the closet, waiting for the mail-order lovers who were the clientele of Wattles’s one legitimate business. $89.95 a pop, although Wattles wasn’t sure that was the best way to put it.
       All the blow-ups leaked sooner or later, thanks to the low manufacturing standards of the Chinese factory where they were produced, which Wattles hadn’t complained about because it ensured re-orders. Maybe he’d put a new one at the desk. Nurse Perky again. Or maybe Venice Skater Girl, although that was kind of informal for the office, and the shoes were expensive.
       So he was probably singing, full of illegal plans, thinking about blowing up a new Tiffany, and smelling all limey when he tried to stick a key into the first of his very good inner locks and couldn’t. It wouldn’t go in. He leaned down, grunting a little as the movement squeezed his gut, and saw that the inner tumbler was upside down.
       So were the others.
       The door had been opened, and whoever had undone those very good locks hadn’t even taken the trouble to lock things up again.
       He went inside, leaving Tiffany to hiss in desolate solitude, and got the TV remote that opened the panel in the wall opposite his desk, but when he turned to aim it, he put it back down. The panel was open. So was the door of the safe behind it. He didn’t even bother to go look.
       The one thing that was sure to be missing was absolutely going to be the piece of paper that could kill him.
       He wheeled his chair over to the window and plopped down, watching the San Fernando Valley work up its daily output of smog. Wattles knew whole battalions of crooks, but he could only think of one person who knew where his office was, could pop those particular locks, and was also enough of a smart-ass to leave them popped.
       He could also only think of one person who could help him figure out whether he was right.
       Problem was, they were the same person. And this, unfortunately, was where I came into the narrative, because both those people were me.

Meet the Author

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of thirteen widely praised books, including The Fear Artist, Crashed, Little Elvises, and The Fame Thief. After years of working in Hollywood, television, and the music industry, he now writes fulltime. He divides his time between California and Thailand.

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Herbie's Game 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a big Tim Hallinan fan and I honestly think this may well be his best effort to date. As usual, in all Hallinan efforts, the pace is blistering, the action hot and heavy, but in between, Tim pauses to offer such wonderful insights, funny moments and in-depth knowledge of a wide variety of subjects that I'm always intrigued. Can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
In an Afterword to his newest book, the author discloses that he was asked by the publisher to write a 30,000-word Junior Bender novella, which started out being a tale of a burglary which netted our protagonist some interesting pieces of jewelry. Instead he ended up writing a novel three times as long in which those brooches merely serve as sort of end pieces to an entirely different theme. Junior, a kind of detective to the underworld, is retained by a mastermind criminal to find out who broke into his office and stole a piece of paper. And to recover that list. The identity of the culprit is obvious to Junior, since he left his “calling card” by leaving everything open. So, Junior heads for his mentor’s home only to find Herbie Mott (who not only taught Junior everything he knows about his “profession,” but was a surrogate father as well) beaten and dead. It’s obvious his attackers were after that same piece of paper, which was a list of intermediaries who served to eventually pass along instructions to a hit man. Thus begins a long trek, as Junior follows the chain in an attempt to discover who was the intended target of the hit. In reviewing the prior novel in the series, I pointed out that Junior was less amusing than he had been in the first two installments. Unfortunately, I felt that he was even less so in this, the fourth. While “Herbie’s Game” is a serious attempt to look at Junior more meaningfully, and we do gain a deeper insight into his personality and character, it is not the Junior we have come to love. Nevertheless, as it stands, it is a novel that keeps one’s interest, and it is recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of Hallinan's three series, I think the Junior Bender books are my favorite. As the series progresses, Junior's character becomes more complex and real to me. I believe that this book is the best of the series so far. All of the usual oddities are there, but there is also more of Junior's backstory. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
RonnaL More than 1 year ago
Is there such a thing as honor amongst thieves and hit men?  It would seem so in Hallinan's series about Junior Bender, whose friend and mentor, Herbie, has taught him everything he knows about breaking into places and choosing the right things to take from others.  Now years later, Junior is also an investigator on behalf of crooks, who for good reasons, aren't comfortable with going to the cops.  Waddles has devised a scheme that insures that no one would be able to finger him as the person setting up a "hit".  He created a chain of people to pass along money, and only the next name on the list--eventually, giving the last envelope to the hit man with his pay and the name of the person to be killed.  But he also wrote this chain out and placed the list in his safe.  Someone has robbed him of this list and Junior is hired to find the culprit. Junior realizes that Herbie was the thief but when he goes to talk to him , he finds Herbie has been tortured to death.  Now Junior is on a crusade to find out what happened.  In the process, more crook acquaintances are found dead.  This sends Junior into a philosophical journey into his life thus far--including his relationship with his ex, his daughter, and his present girlfriend.  Though this is a serious subject, Hallinan puts a wonderfully humorous twist onto the whole story. Reading this book is somewhat like watching a thunderstorm.  It feels beautiful and dangerous at the same time.  His quips and rationalizations are laugh out loud funny but often brilliant too.  Hallinan's writing reminds me of Laurence Block's Burglar series with a large helping of Lorna Lutts and Carl Hiaasen.   Now to go back and read the first three installments of this series!