Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bernie in the rough

Title: Burglars Can't Be Choosers
Author: Lawrence Block
Bookmark: stub from airport parking lot

I wanted to check out Bernie Rhodenbarr's origins, so I hunted down the first book in the series. Apparently, it took a while for Bernie to fully ripen into my favorite Gentleman Burglar. While the first Bernie book is just as funny and engaging as the rest of the stories of his escapades I've read, he's still a little rough, not yet polished into the suave character I met much later in his life. Plus, he hasn't met Carolyn yet, though he does meet a Trusty Sidekick early in the story.

This time, Bernie has been hired to procure a blue leather-covered box from an old roll top desk. He is not told what is inside the box, nor why it is so important, only that he will be payed handsomely for his efforts. Instead, the cops bust in halfway through the job, a body is found, and Bernie bolts. He knows he didn't kill the guy, but he has to convince the cops of that, and the best way to do it is by figuring out who did, and why. That involves lamming in a poker buddy's apartment, getting friendly with the girl who comes by to water the plants, breaking into a couple other places, tracking down the shady character who hired him, and bribing a cop. All in a day's work, right?

In some of the later Bernie stories, he has this sort of aloof charm with the ladies--he mentions them in passing, but it's never that big a deal. In Bernie's premiere, Block seems more interested in heavily asserting that Bernie is a sexy bastard, while maintaining the pulp mores that keep him from being too explicit. Still, Bernie charms one woman into bed almost immediately, and another seems ready to hump his leg using a variety of costumes and... appliances... as soon as they are properly acquainted. Perhaps this says more about the ladies than it does Bernie, but the scene in which picking a lock serves as foreplay ("I think it would make me hot.") probably says more about Block. Let the burglar burgle, Lawrence. That's sexy enough on its own--there's really no need to keep throwing women at the man to prove it.

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posted by reyn at 11:03 AM


Friday, April 03, 2009

Slightly Reformed Burglar vs. Anti-Semitic Kipling

Title: The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling
Author: Lawrence Block
Bookmark: nametag from a wedding invitation

I've been plowing through a long string of mysteries lately, and they're almost always fun, but few are ever as much fun as a Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. Bernie is one of Lawrence Block's more likable creations, a burglar who got tired of going to prison and opened a bookshop. Apparently, he's learned a lot from the mistakes he's made in the past, because he burgles at least five places just in this book--one of them twice--and his only interaction with the police is a slightly dirty cop who keeps trying to get him to acquire a fur coat for his wife.

Bernie is brilliant. In the first chapter, he foils a shoplifter in his store, charges the man for the stolen property, and when the man protests that he doesn't want the books (he was only going to resell them to other dealers), Bernie buys them back for 20% of what he charged the man. The shoplifter leaves $40 lighter, and Bernie pockets the forty bucks and reshelves the books.

Soon he's hired to steal a rare, one-of-a-kind printing of a bad book-length Kipling poem, is held at gunpoint for the pilfered pages, gets framed for murder, and goes on the lam in his friend Carolyn's apartment, fighting one of her cats for the big chair by the radio. To stay ahead of everyone, Bernie has to figure out who stole the book from him, who framed him for murder, who has the book now, why it's so damned important, and somehow hand over all guilty parties to the police without getting nabbed himself. No problem. Because Bernie is brilliant, funny as hell, and aided by his loyal sidekick and lesbian dog-groomer soulmate Carolyn.

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posted by reyn at 4:55 PM