Lawrence Block is one of our most talented mystery authors. In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series he explores how an ordinary, but intelligent, "honest" person might go about pursuing a life of crime as a fastidious and talented burglar who isn't proud of what he does, doesn't like to hang out with criminals, and really gets a big thrill out of breaking and entering . . . and removing valuables. As you can see, there's a sitcom set-up to provide lots of humor. But the humor works well in part because Mr. Block is able to put the reader in the Bernie's shoes while he breaks, enters and steals . . . and evades the long arm of the law. To balance the "honest" burglar is an array of "dishonest" and equally easy-money loving cops. As a result, you're in a funny moral never-never land while your stomach tightens and your arm muscles twitch as tension builds. To make matters even more topsy-turvy, Bernie at some point in every story turns into an investigator who must figure out "who-dun-it" for some crime that he personally didn't do. It's almost like one of those "mystery at home" games where the victim comes back as the police investigator, playing two roles. Very nice!
So much for explaining the concept of the series. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart is the seventh book in the series. I strongly suggest that you begin the series by reading Burglars Can't Be Choosers and follow it up with The Burglar in the Closet, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian and The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams. Each story in the series adds information and characters in a way that will reduce your pleasure of the others if read out of order. Although, I originally read them out of order and liked them well enough. I'm rereading them now in order, and like it much better this way. The Burglar in the Library comes next in the series.
The series, always comical and satirical, takes a new turn in The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart. The spoof expands to the detective/thriller genre in general. I found this change to be a welcome and charming one. Anyone who is a Bogart fan will appreciate the many references to Bogart movies and famous lines in them.
My fascination with Bogart began when I was a freshman in college, and a local theater offered a Bogart festival every semester . . . just when students were supposed to be catching up on their reading and getting ready for final exams. For eight semesters, I spent many happy hours seeing the same Bogart movies . . . over and over again. As Bernie spends three weeks at the movies in this book, I felt like I was back in college again watching him.
Hugo Candlemas comes to Bernie's Barnegat Books and mentions that they have a friend in common, Abel Crowe, a fence who appeared in The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza. Candlemas and Bernie arrange to meet later at Hugo's apartment, where Bernie agrees to lift a portfolio from a desk in another apartment for a minimum of $5,000. While Bernie pursues this task, he is falling in love with the beautiful and mysterious Ilona, whom he meets every night to watch two Bogart films, share a tub of popcorn, hold hands and then part in separate cabs. Throughout, Bernie finds himself drawn to living the role of the classic Bogart hero, uncaring on the surface . . . but with a heart of gold and the mind of an idealist.
You are not supposed to take this mystery and story too seriously, but it does have a nice puzzle in it that will intrigue many hard core mystery buffs.
The theme of this book focuses on what is valuable and what is not. Mr. Block comes down soundly on the side of friends, loyalty and love over mere physical possessions. It's his best critique yet of our obsessions with material goods and so-called wealth. After you enjoy this wonderful book, ask yourself where you could have a richer life by putting people ahead of possessions.