Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Herbie's Game - Audiobook Review

Narrator: Peter Berkrot
Unabridged Length: 10 h, 57 m
Published by Blackstone Audio, 2014
Genres: Mysteries & Thrillers

From the Publisher:
It’s everyday business when Wattles, the San Fernando Valley’s top “executive crook,” sets up a hit. He establishes a chain of criminals to pass along the instructions and the money, thereby ensuring that the hitter doesn’t know who hired him. Then one day Wattles finds his office safe open and a single item missing: the piece of paper listing the crooks in the chain. When people associated with the chain begin to pop up dead, the only person Wattles can turn to for help is Junior Bender, professional burglar and begrudging private eye for crooks.

But Junior already knows exactly who took Wattles’ list; the signature is obvious. It was Herbie Mott, Junior’s burglar mentor and second father—but when Junior seeks him out to discuss the matter, he finds him very unpleasantly murdered. Junior follows the links in the chain back toward the killer, and as he does, he learns disturbing things about Herbie’s hidden past. Just how much of the life he’s lived for the past twenty years has been of his own making, and how much of it was actually Herbie’s game?

My Review:
Junior Bender is back in Timothy Hallinan’s Herbie’s Game, the fourth book in this humorous crime fiction series. The story opens with Junior doing what he does best; burglarizing a home. Afterward, when he is back at his place with his girlfriend checking out the loot, someone knocks on the door. It is Wattles, a San Fernando Valley executive thug, along with his goon Bones. Wattles is what amounts to a crime broker. If someone needs something done, from a minor beat down to an arson to a hit, Wattles can arrange it for a price through his network of criminals.

Junior is hired by Wattles after a burglary at Wattles’ office. Everything was left open and only one thing was taken, a piece of paper. The office is usually very secure, so Junior can think of only one person capable of pulling the job, his mentor Herbie Mott. When Junior accepts the job to retrieve the paper, we find why it was so important. It contained the chain, a list of names in order that were involved in what ultimately was a hit. Only Wattles knew all of the names on the chain. Others, all felons, simply were called to participate to pass on envelopes of money to blind drops, each getting a payment for their participation, but without knowing the killer. They simply delivered and received the payments. It made for a hit to be nearly impossible to trace back up the chain to Wattles and whomever hired him, and given all were felons, none were believable witnesses. Normally, this list of disconnects was never in writing, but that had changed as Wattles was having some recent memory loss issues.

However, Junior realizes there is something strange about this burglary.  He is sure that Herbie had pulled the heist, but Herbie would never have left everything open; it breaks his personal code. Junior decides to go talk to Herbie about his concern. When he arrives, he finds Herbie freshly tortured and murdered. This sets the tone for a darker book than others in this series. Junior spends a lot of time reflecting upon what all Herbie had taught him over the last 20 years in how to play the game of professional burglar.

As Junior starts to trace the chain, folks in the chain start dying. As the plot thickens, questions start coming. Who all was on the list? How many are in the chain? Who was the contract on and who carried out the hit? Who is killing those in the chain, and why? Junior, his ex-wife, his daughter, and his girlfriend are all threatened by someone. Why?

Some refer to the Junior Bender novels as comic crime fiction. That doesn’t really fit this story. Yes, Junior has some funny quips, but the killings here are particularly brutal, and Junior is out to find and kill those responsible for killing Herbie. Herbie had left a note for Junior in the event he was killed. It gave a name of the likely killer. But … so many questions and plot twists as additional colorful less-than-law-abiding characters are introduced into the story.  The ending of this one was both interesting and satisfying.

I love the Junior Bender character and I can’t think of a better voice for him than Peter Berkrot. This audiobook is full of colorful characters such as Wattles, Bones, Handkerchief Harrison, Ting Ting, Stinky, Dippy, Monte and his teen hackers Anime and Lily, Reuben Ghorbani; as well has Junior’s daughter Rina and his girlfriend of the moment Ronnie.

Berkrot does a great job with giving each character a unique and distinct voice, fully appropriate for the complex characters Hallinan has developed. He does a good job with all of the female character voices. I particularly liked his voices for 14-year-old hackers Anime and Lily. The carry-on between Anime and Junior was funny, and Berkrot nailed the scene with his tone and timing. He even had a decent west Texas female accent late in the story, which says a lot, since he is a native New Yorker.

Berkrot kept the story moving with good pacing and appropriate drama that enhanced the great characters of Hallinan.  This was an enjoyable listening experience; the combination of good writing and good voice acting. While this is the fourth book in this series, it works well as a standalone. I highly recommend this audiobook. Of course now, I need to go back and listen to the previous three, as enjoyed Herbie’s Game so much.

Other books in the Junior Bender series written by Timothy Hallinan and voiced by Peter Berkrot include:

Little Elvises
The Fame Thief

A review copy of Herbie’s Game was provided by Blackstone Audio through the Solid Gold Reviewer program of Audiobook Jukebox.

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