Bernie Rhodenbarr is a straightforward sort of fellow. He runs a second hand bookstore in New York, has a regular lunch routine with his friend Carolyn, just an everyday businessman. Apart from the fact that he regularly supplements his income as a burglar. And despite his uncanny aptitude at that trade, he has a nasty habit of getting into trouble.
Take, for example, this instance. When he’s asked to steal a priceless manuscript – the sole surviving copy of an almost unknown poem by Kipling – from a house in Forest Hills, he can’t resist. After a successful caper, and a close encounter with someone’s henchman, he still heads off to deliver the goods. And, as so often happens in this sort of situation, the woman he meets drugs him. When he wakes up, there are police outside the door, there’s a smoking gun in his hand, and the woman in question is lying opposite him, quite, quite dead. Just one of those days…
Sometimes I waver a little on Lawrence Block – I wasn’t a massive fan of the first Matt Scudder book, but liked the later one that I read pre-blog (yes, there was such a time!) – but the Burglar books, in particular the earlier ones, are always good for a laugh. As I’ve got a lot going on at the moment, I’m tending to include some quick and easy reads and I knew that this was what I would get from this one.
Bernie, the narrator as well as the star, is a likeable chap, and Block infuses the tale with a lovely line in humour that means there’s something to make you smile around the corner at all times. This book sets up the status quo for the remainder of the novels (this is book three out of eleven) with the first appearances of Carolyn and the bookstore – no Raffles yet, but everything else is basically in place.
The plot is a clever set of twists and turns and I can imagine the reader being genuinely surprised by the denouement. I’m not convinced that there are any substantial clues pointing towards what’s going on – one of the weaknesses of these stories is usually a sequence where Bernie discovers a shedload of extra information without letting on to the reader what it is, and without it, all you’re left with is an intelligent guess as to the culprit. And as almost everyone is up to something, there’s a reasonable amount to figure out/guess at.
If this wasn’t such an entertaining read, this would bother me a lot more. But it is, so it doesn’t.
So, if you’re after a fun, quick murder mystery, then this comes Recommended. In fact, why not buy the ebook collection of the first five books in the series – eleven quid for five cracking reads isn’t bad going at all.