2004; 350 pages. New Author? : No. Book #10 (out of 11) in the Bernie Rhodenbarr “Burglar” series. Genre : Crime-Humor. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Surveillance cameras are cropping up all over the place these days. Inside apartment buildings, along all the aisles in department stores, on the city streets, and above many sidewalks. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to make a living as a law-un-abiding citizen.
Heck, you don’t even have to be in the process of committing a crime. If you’re a not-so-well-to-do person walking around in a well-to-do neighborhood, and your face shows up on a surveillance video, well, people are bound to wonder what you’re doing there.
Like, for instance, our protagonist, Bernie Rhodenbarr, who's the owner of a used bookstore by day, a small-time, part-time burglar by night, and known to a local police detective for both of those vocations.
So when someone kills three people during a robbery in an upscale neighborhood, and Bernie’s face gets caught on a nearby sidewalk camera, guess who instantly becomes the prime suspect? After all, what other reason could a known petty thief have for traipsing around the street there in the dead of night?
Truth be told, Bernie had another reason to be there, and was completely unaware of the murder-robbery taking place. He was checking out the neighborhood in preparation for a burglary of his own. Which is not a very good alibi to give to the police.
Good luck on wiggling out of this one, Bernie.
What’s To Like...
The Burglar On The Prowl follows Lawrence Block’s standard pattern for this series: Bernie becomes the prime suspect in a crime, usually while perpetrating his own bit of larceny, and is therefore forced to solve it to clear his name. His friend Carolyn Kaiser lends some well-intentioned but amateurish assistance, while Police Detective Ray Kirschmann waffles between arresting Bernie and/or aiding him, the latter option being contingent upon Ray getting the credit for solving the case.
The may sound banal, but it works due to the abundance of wit, the lively pace, and the complex and intriguing plotline. Bernie’s tasks here are to figure out a.) who killed a rich couple and their doorman (and why?), b.) who robbed Crandall Rountree Mapes (and what did they steal?), c.) who violated a trust in the worst way during a blind date, and d.) why would someone pay $1300 for a $12 book and then get killed for it?
As usual, Lawrence Block gives nods to a bunch of his fellow authors. Here he tips his hat to Graham Greene, Leon Uris, Joseph Conrad, George Gissing (who?), Marcel Proust, Edgar Allan Poe, and John Sandford. The nod to the last one is quite clever: Sandford has a 30-book “Prey” series (Shadow Prey, Winter Prey, Chosen Prey, etc.) so Block “invents” a new title: Lettuce Prey.
I enjoyed the somewhat dated references to LP’s and Amway. There’s a sprinkling of Spanish mixed in, including one cussword. I’d never heard of “milk chutes” before, and the “McGuffin which is really a false McGuffin” literary device made me chuckle. I liked the several references to the 20th-century history of Latvia; it’s something near and dear to my heart.
The ending is vintage Lawrence Block. Bernie presents four different versions of it, which seemed a bit convoluted and confusing, but hey, it made things interesting. Also, one of the bad guys gets away, and I’m always like that sort of thing.
“The man,” said my friend Marty Gilmartin, “is an absolute … a complete … an utter and total …” He held out his hands, shook his head, and sighed. “Words fail me.”
“Apparently,” I agreed. “Nouns, anyway. Adjectives seem to be supporting you well enough, but nouns... “ (pg. 1, and the opening lines)
“Only thing we found in the room was a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, an’ the last I heard they were lookin’ for someone to translate ‘em.”
“Pardon my Latvian,” I said. “I assume that’s the language they’re in?”
“Some’s Russian, goin’ by the letters. They’re in that alphabet they got, that’s like Greek but worse.”
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s Russian.” (pg. 224)
When a cop’s not near the suspect he suspects, he suspects the suspect he’s near. (pg. 118)
I found The Burglar On The Prowl to be an entertaining read, although it might not be to everyone’s taste. For starters, there’s a bunch of cussing in it, but that’s also true for the whole series.
More serious is the blind date infraction. This apparently offended some readers, and I admit it’s rather edgy. Still, it’s a real risk in today’s dating scene, so perhaps it will serve as a warning about going home with someone you know absolutely nothing about.
Personally, my only quibble was that there seemed to be more philosophical “asides” by Bernie as he tries to justify his larcenous proclivities, but this is nitpicking on my part.