“The Fame Thief” (Soho Crime), by Timothy Hallinan
Junior Bender is a professional burglar, and he’s very good at it. He’s been breaking into houses and making off with valuables for a long time and has never been arrested. Along the way, though, he’s also picked up a sideline, moonlighting as a private eye of sorts whose clients are all fellow criminals; and in this line of work he’s a magnet for trouble.
In “The Fame Thief,” Timothy Hallinan’s third novel in this series, Bender is scooped up by a couple of thugs and driven to the estate of Irwin Dressler, a 93-year-old mobster who’s had a piece of just about everything that’s happened in Hollywood for as long as anyone can remember.
Dressler, it turns out, is still obsessing about a 60-year-old incident that ruined the promising career of a young Hollywood starlet he cared about. He wants Bender to find out who was behind it and why. Bender figures it’s a fool’s errand. After all, many of the people who know anything about it are probably dead. But he knows Dressler is not someone you can turn down.
So Bender starts digging into the golden age of film, when powerful studio heads made and destroyed stars at their whim and the mob held sway over much of went on in the city. But somebody out there doesn’t like the questions he’s asking, and soon the people he asks them of start turning up dead.
As usual in a Junior Bender novel, the writing is reminiscent of the best of crime fiction’s golden age – as taut and hard-boiled as Dashiell Hammett’s yet peppered with the sort of smart-aleck lines Raymond Chandler loved to toss off.