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LITTLE ELVISES by Timothy Hallinan: Book Review

The police asking a burglar to help them out?  This could only happen in Los Angeles.

Junior Bender is the burglar, and he has developed a following among his fellow crooks for solving their problems.  But it’s a surprise when Police Detective Paulie DiGaudio asks Junior for help.  Paulie’s uncle, Vinnie DiGaudio, was a big name in the early days of rock and roll and the producer of “American Dance Hall,” a television show in the 1950s featuring Philadelphia teenagers dancing to hit rock and roll records.

Rather than relying on others, Vinnie became, on a small level, a star-maker.  He found local teenage boys who reminded him of Elvis, wrote songs for them, and watched them become teen-age phenoms, if only for a brief time. During this time, Vinnie created two stars.  One was Bobby Angel, a kid who could sing; the other was Georgio, a drop-dead gorgeous boy who couldn’t sing a note but didn’t need to.

Although Junior tells Paulie that he doesn’t get involved in murder cases, of course that’s the reason Paulie has called him.  Vinnie was heard to say publicly that he’d like to kill Derek Bigelow, a trashy reporter who was trying to blackmail him.  Derek is found dead shortly thereafter and Vinnie, although swearing his innocence, looks good for the crime.  The strange thing is, Junior discovers, Vinnie has a solid alibi for the night of the murder but for some reason is afraid to use it.  What could he be more afraid of than facing a murder charge?

Although he’s supposed to be spending all his time investigating the DiGaudio case, Junior is also looking for the missing daughter of the owner of the motel where he lives.  Doris is the woman who has disappeared, apparently with her no-good boyfriend, and her mother won’t call the police.

Doris’ mother, Mildred, tells Junior that Doris hates cops because her father was a cop unfairly accused of killing a man and was forced off the force without a pension.  “So I send cops after her, she’ll smell them coming from a mile away. It’s you or nobody.  She’d never let a cop find her…,” Mildred explains.   So Junior, being the mensch that Mildred calls him, agrees to look for Doris.

With all the above there’s a lot going on in Junior’s life, but there’s even more.  Sparks fly when he meets Ronnie Bigelow, the widow of the late, unlamented (even by Ronnie) reporter who was blackmailing Vinnie; their attraction is instant and obvious.  And Junior is also dealing with his precocious thirteen-year-old daughter Rina, her schoolmate/possible boyfriend Tyrone, and some feelings he still has for his ex-wife Kathy.  And a former gangster, now an elderly man but still someone with mucho power in Los Angeles, wants to be kept abreast of Junior’s investigations into Vinnie’s innocence or guilt.

Little Elvises is a book that will make you laugh out loud but has a serious undertone.  It looks into the sleazy underworld behind the music industry and the desire for fame and fortune that can cause the most horrific crimes. Its characters are a bit over-the-top, but their motivations are real and understandable, even the worst of them.  Timothy Hallinan has written a book that’s a delight to read.

You can read more about Timothy Hallinan at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

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