Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: Burglars Can't Be Choosers

Burglars Can't Be Choosers
By Lawrence Block

First published: 1977
Series: Bernie Rhodenbarr #1

Read: 14 - 21 January 2011
Pages: 293
Challenges: 1st in a Series Challenge #2
Mystery & Suspence Reading Challenge #1

From the cover
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a personable chap, a good neightbor, a passable poker player. His chosen profession, however, might not sit well with some. Bernie is a burglar, a good one, effortlessly lifting valuables from the not-so-well-protected abodes of well-to-do New Yorkers like a modern-day Robin Hood. (The poor, as Bernie would be the first to tell you, alas, have nothing worth stealing.)

He's not perfect, however; he occasionally makes mistakes. Like accepting a paid assignment from a total stranger to retrieve a particular item from a rich man's apartment. Like still being there when the cops arrive. Like having a freshly slain corpse lying in the next room, and no proof that Bernie isn't the killer.

Now he's really got his hands full, having to locate the true perpetrator while somehow eluding the police - a dirty job indeed, but if Bernie doesn't do it, who will?

It is no secret that I love stories about con artists and gentlemen thieves, so my expectations of this book were perhaps a little high. Luckily they were mostly met.

We come into the story just as Bernie is about to go on a job. He has been hired to steal a blue leather box from an apartment, which sounds easy enough. And it is easy - until it turns out he is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly Bernie is on the run from the police, wanted for murder.

The book is not particularly fast-paced, but the plot is full of twists and turns. I did not even come close to solving the mystery myself, which made Bernie seem all the more clever. Block also has a sense of humour, and I was chuckling throught the book. Consider this little exchange:

"I'll give you the location, the aparment, everything, and for you it's like picking up candy in the street."
"I never pick up candy in the street."

Bernie is a likeable fellow. His career choice may not be the most ethical (or legal), but he is a nice person who would never dream of hurting anyone. He is smart and quick-witted, and the ladies are drawn to him. Speaking of ladies; I did wonder about Ruth's motives for helping Bernie, but I need not have worried, because Block is a good enough writer to have asked himself the same question.

There were a couple of times when I had to remind myself that this was written 34 years ago, because it generally did not have an "old" feel to it. When Bernie and Ruth spent 10 pages (and 5 phone calls and 1 directory) trying to find the name of an actor who was in a movie on TV, I kept thinking "Just look it up on IMDB!". It made me appreciate the wonders of the Internet even more.

Best: The humour and intricate plot.
Worst: The cover. Seriously, this picture does not do it justice. My copy is bright orange; so bright that I could use it to signal with in the dark.

Rating: 4 – Good

The Bernie Rhodenbarr series
  1. Burglars Can't Be Choosers
  2. The Burglar in the Closet
  3. The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling 
  4. The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza 
  5. The Burglar Who Painted like Mondrian 
  6. The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams 
  7. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart 
  8. The Burglar in the Library 
  9. The Burglar in the Rye 
  10. The Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis 
  11. The Burglar on the Prowl
Lawrence Block's website:

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