It’s three days until Christmas and Junior Bender, Hollywood’s fasttalking fixer for the felonious, is up to his ears in shopping mall Santas, Russian mobsters, desperate holiday shoppers, and (’tis the season) murder.
The halls are decked, the deck is stacked, and here comes that jolly old elf. Junior Bender, divorced father of one and burglar extraordinaire, finds himself stuck inside the Edgerton Mall, and not just as a last-minute shopper (though he is that too). Edgerton isn’t exactly the epicenter of holiday cheer, despite its two Santas, canned Christmas music, chintzy bows, and festive lights. The mall is a fossil of an industry in decline; many of its stores are closed, and to make matters worse, there is a rampant shoplifting problem.
The murderous Russian mobster who owns the place has decided it takes a thief to catch a thief and hires Junior—under threat—to solve the shoplifting problem for him. But Junior’s surveillance operation doesn’t go well: as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are dead and it’s obvious that shoplifting is the least of the mall’s problems. To prevent further deaths, possibly including his own, Junior must confront his dread of Christmas—both present and past.
Review: I so enjoyed the previous Junior Bender novel, King Maybe, that when the next book in the series came out I jumped on the chance to read it. I still haven’t caught up on previous installments but it’s not marring my enjoyment of the current storyline. While there are elements from the previous books building up through each story, the books can be read easily as stand-alones.
In this book, Junior is working a lack-luster mall. It’s described as a “dump”. This sounds exactly like a mall where I used to live and I can picture it so well in my mind.
“The place was dotted with empty, mournfully dark store spaces, conspicuous as missing teeth – perhaps one in eight – and the shops that were open had a kind of off-flavor, a beyond-the-fringe, the-card-you-didn’t-want-to-draw feeling, like Bonnie’s had, but minus Bonnie’s eccentricity and personal cheer The Edgerton stores were a few steps down the scale from the retail outfits one associates with the upper middle class. The merchandise looked a lot alike. Except for a huge Boots to Suits discount outlet at one end of the ground floor, where there normally would have been a status department store – Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or even Macy’s – the big chains had either never opened or, like Gabriel’s, had fled. Rodeo Drive was in a galaxy far, far away.”
The secondary characters here are delightful. Schlomo, a Jewish Santa Clause, who weaves a touching story from World War II and why his father’s dog tags are so important to him. Wally is a smarter-than-he-seems security guard who keeps watch over his Edgerton kingdom via security cameras that are older than the mall itself. Recurring characters Anime and Lilli also make an appearance, showing off skills no 15-year-old should possess.
In all, Fields is a clever Christmas mystery with a gratifying ending.