- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
A good series shows more and more focus with each book. The nuances of the lead characters show patterns and changes as a subtle arc becomes apparent and the themes more vibrant as the light of each facet bounces off the other. Following a strong series character is like watching a skilled artist work on a mosaic, each story is a step toward a bigger picture. Timothy Hallinan’s King Maybe reminded me of this, showing what I often think as a collection of light-hearted caper novels has a lot more going on.
For those unfamiliar with Junior, he is a Los Angeles burglar who at times is forced to be an ad-hoc private eye for other criminals. As often in the books, King Maybe opens up with Junior in the middle of a job. This one involves lifting a rare stamp out of the home of a mobster, something that becomes more complicated when the man and his henchmen come back early. The outcome of the situation leads from one burglary job to another as well as a murder. It all swirls around a movie mogul known as “King Maybe” for the way he dangles the hope of a green light without ever committing to a project. To mention anymore would give away the entertaining twists and turns Junior is put through.
The plot of one score leading to another score has echoes of The Hot Rock, the first Donald Westlake Dortmunder book that popularized the comic caper novel. Hallinan uses the structure to greater effect by infusing it with a story as we’ve gotten to know Junior.The caper structure mirrors his life of moving from frying pan to fryer and back again. The earlier books have a more devil-may-care tone with Junior excepting what his is and what he does. While Hallinan’s latest is still very funny, we start getting the idea that Junior is trapped because of who he is and he is starting to realize that, particularly in his growing relationship with his daughter.
Hollywood has always played an important part in the books. Show business serves as more than just a backdrop with many of its players being more morally vapid than the criminals in Junior’s world. This novel has a particular jaundice view of showbiz, tapping into the fear and desperation of Tinsel Town and delivering a critique of how the the town treats women (a reoccurring topic in the series). “King Maybe” is somebody who rose through the ranks by accepting the abuse of others and now exercises his own power by holding the dreams of others in sight, but out of reach. The only kind of justice that can reach them would have to come from a criminal.
I have said before this series walks the line between Dortmunder and Westlake’s more hard boiled creation, Parker. King Maybe has made me realize that line is more of a fissure that Hallinan drops into like a literary spelunker, going deeper and deeper with each book. From the looks of things, he has a long way to go before hitting bottom.
You can find copies of King Maybe on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.