Lawrence Block is one of our most talented mystery authors. In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series he explores out 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 in the Closet is the second book in the series. I strongly suggest that you begin the series by reading Burglars Can't Be Choosers. 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 Who Liked to Quote Kipling comes next in the series.
As Stephen King likes to point out, a great way to start a book is to put a character in an unusual situation and then let things happen from there. The Burglar in the Closet certainly follows that route in a successful manner with what reads and feels like a very realistic (and hilarious to think about) burglary experience.
The complications soon start coming from all directions like sharpened spears, and Bernie's ducking before one of them hits him! Along the way you'll meet The World's Greatest Dentist and his hygienist, some remarkably vivid barflies, and visit again with the brilliant, but bent cop, Ray Kirschmann from Burglars Can't Be Choosers. Bernie gets accused of just about everything but what he actually did, and as before, straightens matters out through his own investigation.
I thought that the identity of the more serious criminal was pretty obvious, but the plot develops in such a witty, charming way that I didn't really mind. The plot is pretty complicated, and will keeep you on your toes . . . so pay attention!
This book is definitely a step up from Burglars Can't Be Choosers and really establishes the series as a solid one for fans of off-beat mysteries.
As I read this book, I was reminded of Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong, will). Most of the unpleasant situations in our lives come about because we ignore Mr. Murphy. This book will certainly remind you to think through what could go wrong . . . before you go ahead.
on 17 September 2008
Bernie Rhodenbarr returns in this the second of Lawrence Block's excellent mystery series. The life of a burglar is always about breaking the law, but there is a difference between stealing and killing, so how come Bernie always seems to get mixed up in murder? This time Bernie is an unfortunate witness to the killing of a woman whose home he was burglarising at the time; being locked in a cupboard though does not make him the best person to identify the killer. Not wanting to get involved in a case such as this would be a sensible thing, but the killer not only murdered someone, but had the gall to steal Bernie's stash. Can Bernie uncover a killer so that he can get his stolen jewels back?
I really enjoyed `The Burglar in the Closet' as it is the type of breezy crime novel that Block writes so well. Written in the late 70s it is a testament to a good author that it does not feel aged at all. Bernie is a wonderful creation being casual, likable and cynical all at the same time. We know that he is on the wrong side of the law, but in a world painted in shades of grey he come across as a gentleman. The case found in `Closet' is a short one but perfectly formed. We are given a set of suspects and Bernie follows through it all for us. I was a little confused by some of the end explanation, but overall the book was an amusing read as well as having a good crime element. This is the perfect series for someone looking for a more traditional and light feeling crime set.
on 29 October 2010
This is the 2nd in the 'Burglar' series, the first being 'Burglars Can't Be Choosers' which is where you should really start although I have to admit to not reading them in order myself and, although it's not the best of the series (see 'Kipling' and 'Mondrian' for those), it's still pretty good stuff.
Fast paced, witty and at 188 pages it's not exactly 'War And Peace' in the time department, you can crack this little gem off in a couple of sittings and it's a wonder why nobody's made a film with the Bernie Rhodenbarr character, in fact, it's scandalous.
on 2 December 2001
This is the first Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, and creates the pattern followed pretty faithfully by the whole series. Bernie, "retired" burglar and second hand bookdealer, is caught up unwittingly in murderous dealings, and can only prove his own innocence by uncovering the real killer. The first person narrative is sharp and witty, the plot tightly written, and the tone light almost to the point of parody, but Block, the ultimate pulp professional, always knows when to stop in order to escape sillyness.
This is not a book for the hardboiled afficionado, (Bernie even brings the main suspects together at the end in true whodunnit style to unmask the killer), but if you want a quick, well written, at times laugh-out-loud funny escapist read, you won't be disappointed.