An unexpectedly rich Christmas gift: the chance to spend the holidays in a fading suburban Los Angeles shopping mall with Junior Bender, the burglar who moonlights as a “detective for crooks.”
Junior doesn’t usually do Christmas. He’s not really into Jesus, peace on Earth, or glad tidings. But a serious spike in pre-holiday shoplifting at the San Fernando Valley’s Edgerton Mall has led Tip Poindexter, of the Edgerton Partnership, to ask Trey Annunziato, the beleaguered but still powerful head of a Valley crime family, to recommend someone to investigate, and she’s recommended Junior (King Maybe, 2016, etc.), who she thinks owes her a favor. Mobbed-up Tip, whom Junior dubs “Vlad the Impeller,” is the client from hell, alternately demanding instant reports and threatening Junior’s 13-year-old daughter, Rina, if he doesn’t get them. And the case itself seems baffling, since all the owners of independent storefronts like Kim’s Kollectables, iShop, Paper Dolls, KissyFace, Sam’s Saddlery, and Time Remembered—virtually all the businesses the exodus of big-box chains has left the Edgerton Mall—have reported that losses have tripled, and the security tapes security chief Wally Durskee shows Junior don’t reveal any distinctive person or persons doing the lifting. As the clock ticks down to the Christmas Eve deadline Tip has imposed on Junior, he bonds with several of the store owners and forms an even closer and more dangerous attachment to Francie DuBois , the friend of his friend Louie the Lost, who saves his life during one of several episodes in which someone shoots at him. As Junior allows, “This is a hell of a Christmas story”—one of the very best since “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”
A plum pudding stuffed with cynical disillusionment, organized and disorganized crime, two Santas, a seasonal miracle, and an ending that earns every bit of its uplift.