Friday, June 3, 2011

Burglary by the Book

One of the advantages of living in New York was the opportunity to attend frequent book signings by famous or would-be famous authors.  I always went out of my way to attend signings (and the accompanying lectures) by Lawrence Block.  Block is a hilarious speaker and a prolific and accomplished author; one of my favorite books about the craft of writing is his Telling Lies for Fun and Profit.  Among his works of fiction, however, I am most enamored of his Bernie Rhodenbarr series, ten highly unusual crime novels.

Bernie, you see, is a burglar.  A burglar with scruples; he never carries a gun and he steals only from those who can afford the loss.  Bernie is not Robin Hood; he usually disposes of his ill-gotten gains for his own benefit.  Bernie is a highly skilled burglar and would probably never have to worry about the long arm of the law except for one thing: his unfortunate tendency to stumble across recently dead bodies and become embroiled in the ensuing investigations.

Some literary series start out with a bang and then fizzle out.  Block's Burglar series does the opposite.  Each book builds on the previous volumes.  Over time Bernie buys a bookstore as a cover for his true profession and accumulates a variety of eccentric and endearing friends.  The jokes also seem to get funnier with each new release; the repartee is reminiscent of the screwball romantic film comedies of the 1940s, if the writers had been masters of free association and not worried about censorship or proving that crime doesn't pay.

Still, the best place to start reading is probably the first book in the series, Burglars Can't Be Choosers. Meet Bernie at the moment he first realizes that in order to remain a successful felon he must also become a successful detective.  You'll be glad that you still have nine even funnier opportunities left to watch him break, enter, and panic.

"I use sheer skintight rubber gloves, the kind doctors wear, and I cut out circles on the palms and backs so my hands won't perspire as much.  As with other skintight rubber things, you don't really lose all that much in the way of sensitivity and you make up for it in peace of mind." ~Bernie Rhodenbarr in Lawrence Block's Burglars Can't Be Choosers

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