The back cover describes Junior Bender as a crook with a heart of gold (which is more or less accurate), so right off the bat you know plausibility has gone out the window. I’ve known more than my share of crooks when I was in the FBI and gold hearts aren’t in the picture. So what? I knew this was fiction when I picked it up. There was no Dewey Decimal number on the spine. The sign at the end of aisle said Adult Fiction (to distinguish it from the library’s children’s and young adult sections, not like an Adult Film, which, as it happens, is part of the plot here). So Junior, whose specialty is burglary for hire, gets forcibly cajoled into helping a mobstress make a porn film using a screwed-up, addicted former child star, which for implausible reasons he’s supposed to be able to control.
The author is a master of witty hyperbole: the valley has an entire planet’s worth of bars, the house’s front door is so massive you need a ladder just to say hi, a drinker’s face the color of rare roast beef, and that’s just the first couple of pages. I began to worry that’s all the book was going to be: a plot-free collection of amusing over-the-top descriptions like what Carl Hiaasen writes. That’s whipped cream, delicious at first, but not enough to make a real meal out of. Or a novel. I was quickly disabused of that notion. We eventually meet Thistle, the crashed starlet, and Junior is torn between doing his duty to the mobstress (thus keeping his arms and legs attached to the rest of his body) and saving poor Thistle from herself.
I’ll spare you the spoilers. It was obvious as soon as the film-making came along that the author knew his stuff there. The jargon, the personnel, all of it rang true and was fascinating. The crime stuff, not so much, at least not the ringing true part, but it was entertaining. I wanted to dislike the author, perhaps because he’s one of those show-biz people, perhaps because he portrayed law enforcement (or one bad cop anyway) in a bad light, or perhaps because he’s a very successful mystery writer whereas I’m a barely-in-the-black self-published mystery writer, but I found this hard to do because I was enjoying the book too much. The dude can write. He can even write grammatically while keeping the profanity, porn stuff, and gore to an acceptable minimum.
If plausibility went out the window on the back cover, by the end it’s on a NASA spacecraft exiting the Kuiper Belt (see, I can do hyperbole, too), but you won’t care. You’ll be rooting for Junior and Thistle too hard. Five stars may be pushing it, but this is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time.