1979; 304 pages. New Author? : No. Book #3 (of 11) in the Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” series. Genre : Crime-Humor. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a reformed man. He used to be quite the burglar, but a stretch in the pen made him see the error of his ways. He is now content to run a small used-book store. The profits aren’t as good but he can read on the job and no one is trying to throw him in jail.
But some people persist in doubting that he’s really changed. Like the local cop who wants Bernie to steal a fur coat for his wife. Nope. Stealing on behalf of a policeman is a sure recipe for disaster. Then there’s the man who wants him to steal a single book. Really? A book-dealer stealing a book? The irony just drips.
But he’s willing to pay Bernie $15,000 for the job. Hmmm. Well, maybe just one more heist. For old times’ sake, you know.
What’s To Like...
You’ll find The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling in the Murder-Mystery section of your local bookstore. Technically it’s a Cozy. There’s no sex or drugs in the story, and I don’t remember any cussing. Heck, even the murder, a bullet to the head, produces very little blood.
But you should really read the books in this series first and foremost for their wit and humor. The dialogue always sparkles, and Bernie is a charismatic ex-thief (the "ex-" might be debatable), who’ll remind you of Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder.
The two main characters in the series – Bernie and his best pal Carolyn – are both warmly lovable. Even the local cop has a certain charm about him. The one-and-done characters, including the baddies, are all refreshingly likable. And don’t worry about Romance developing between Bernie and Carolyn – she’s gay.
Lawrence Block manages to insert numerous plugs for classic literature into the text. Kipling naturally takes center stage here (although I don't recall much quoting of him), including a fascinating and completely fictitious account of a long-lost novel by that author. The story moves at a pleasant pace, which is a must for any cozy. The ending is the standard “gather all the suspects together and then explain who the culprit is” device, but so what? All the elements of the plotline are resolved neatly, and each book in this series is a standalone tale.
Kewlest New Word ...
Billingsgate (n.) : Coarse, abusive, or obscene language. (a Britishism)
“What the hell do you know about books?”
“Well, I was always a big reader.”
“In the jug, you mean.”
“Even on the outside, all the way back to childhood. You know what Emily Dickinson said. “'There’s no frigate like a book.'”
“Frig it is right. You didn’t just run around buyin’ books and then open up a store.” (loc. 166)
We entered the vestibule. “You don’t have to come,” I said.
“Ring the bell, Bern.”
“I’m serious. You could wait in the car.”
“Wonderful. I can play it safe by sitting in a stolen car parked at a bus stop. Why don’t I just wait for the subway? I could cling to the third rail for security.” (loc. 1496)
The Burglar Who Like To Quote Kipling sells for $4.74 at Amazon. All the rest of the books in the series sell for either $4.74 or $4.99, which seems quite reasonable.
”When you don’t know what you’re looking for, you have a great advantage, because you don’t know what you’ll find.” (loc. 1672)
Although the story is a whodunit, don’t try to solve it before Bernie does. Some of the critical clues aren’t revealed until that final gathering. Instead, just trot alongside Bernie as he tries to figure out what's going on, devises clever stratagems, and engages in witty banter. I found TBWLTQK to be a “just right” mystery – the denouement was neither too arbitrary nor too obvious.
I read two or three books from this series about 10 years ago, and enjoyed them all. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get back to Lawrence Block and Bernie Rhodenbarr, but it was a nice surprise to discover that my local digital library carries 10 of the 11 books in the series. I suspect I’ll be reading more of these in the coming months.
8½ Stars. Add ½-Star if you’ve read anything by Kipling, and like his stuff.