Saturday, January 25, 2014

Playing Spoons With Bernie Rhodenbarr

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons
by Lawrence Block

4 out of 5 collectible buttons

OK, now I get it.

Despite being a huge fan of Lawrence Block, his series featuring professional thief and book store owner Bernie Rhodenbarr never tripped my trigger like most of his other stuff does. A few years back after reading Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, I thought I had finally pinned down why.  Unlike Block’s other regular characters, Bernie’s books aren’t really about his chosen profession.  Matt Scudder is a detective who does a lot of detecting, and John Keller is a hired killer who kills a whole bunch of people, but the main point to Bernie’s stories were not that he burgles.  Instead, he’s a burglar who usually ends up playing amateur sleuth due to circumstances brought about by his breaking and entering.  (It didn’t help that I was comparing Bernie to Donald Westlake’s comedic series about luckless thief John Dortmunder whose exploits are all about coming up with creative plans to steal stuff.)

However, while reading this I found myself completely charmed by Bernie and his adventures in breaking and entering as well as trying to solve a mystery so I think that by realizing what had irked me about the series in the past, I was finally able to just relax and enjoy Block showing a lighter comedic touch on a more whimsical character rather than nitpicking the story for what it isn’t.

What I ended up liking the most was the similarity that Bernie shares with Block’s other creations in that he has  a lot of quirky conversations with a variety of people.  The historical tidbits learned from an eccentric collector who hires Bernie to steal a couple of items he can’t get his hands on legally were interesting and might come in handy during a game of trivial pursuit.  I’d cheerfully read a book that was nothing but the oddball conversations that Bernie has with his best friend Carolyn over lunches and drinks that may start out being about his latest job but frequently go off into different directions that involve jokes, random observations, idle musings and general goofing around.

We also get Bernie’s complaints and observations about running a book store in the age of the Kindle as well as a few shout outs to crime writers like Ed McBain and Michael Connelly.  Then there’s an overall plot that involves a couple of burglary schemes and Bernie being asked by a cop to lend his expertise to a crime scene involving a burglary and potential homicide.  Put all this together and you get a book that provide more than a few laughs that also gives the reader some things to puzzle out.

You weren’t the problem, Bernie.  It was me all along.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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