January 16, 2012

The Burglar In the Rye


You ever have an author you read pretty consistently and then...something happens?  You get busy; you get into other things.  You still buy some of their books but for some reason you just have other stuff to get to.  Then you finally pick up one of their books again and you’re instantly back in their world and remembering all the other books while reading this one?

That’s what happened to me with this book.  As part of the TBR Double Dare, I’m pulling things off my shelves that I’ve realized I’ve never read and finally getting around to them.  It’s the best resolution I’ve made!  I love doing away with reader guilt!

Lawrence Block is an official Grand Master of the mystery genre.  He’s got three popular series.  Well, he has more, but these three are his most famous: the Matthew Scudder series (my favorite), the Keller series, and the Bernie Rhodenbarr series.  Matt Scudder is an ex-drunk ex-cop who, in a gritty series, is an unofficial PI who deals with some serious moral grey areas.  Keller is a fun series about a professional killer and stamp collector.  Bernie owns an runs an antiquarian bookshop on paper, and that’s how he spends his days.  But many nights find his plying his true calling: that of being a burglar.  He’s a fastidious and entertaining character who often finds himself breaking into a room with a corpse and having to solve the murder so it doesn’t get pinned on him.  He’s the dry-witted Holmes in these situations and his Watson is the hard-drinking lesbian pet groomer next door to the books shop, Carolyn.  While the Scudder novels are gritty and hard-bitten, the Bernie books are all lighter than air and Block uses then as an excuse to play with all the usual tropes of these types of mysteries.  Scudder can be traced back to Hammett.  Bernie back to Agatha.  He’s even got the requisite cat in the book shop. The body, while obviously damaged in some way, has already been done away with.  There’s rarely ever any on stage violence.  It’s a game of wits that many times ends in a moment in which Bernie gets to say, “I’ll bet you’re all wondering why I’ve brought you here.”

This one is a riff on the Salinger letters and bios of the late 90s and early 00s.  In this one, a woman asks Bernie to break into the hotel residence of a famous reclusive author and steal his letters before the old editor sells them at auction and has them published.

Of course Bernie gets into the hotel room only to find that someone has just been there, gotten the letters, and done away with the old editor.  Bernie gets out; and to make sure the evening isn’t a total loss, steals some high-priced rubies from another hotel room on his circuitous path out of the hotel...and right into the arms of the cops.

So now he has to find the letters, solve more than one murder and clear up some confusion about these multiply-stolen rubies if he wants to stay out of the clink permanently.

With this many balls flying in the air, don’t even bother trying to figure out whodunnit because, well, you’ll never guess and it doesn’t really matter.  It’s more about watching the juggling act and enjoying the show.  And while you’re at it you’ll learn to appreciate those old writers who have filled our lives with these wonderful books.  Not bad for a light mystery.

8 comments:

Jenny said...

I adore these books and am always on the lookout for a new one. Sadly, Block hasn't written a new book about Bernie in a while (to the best of my knowledge). His Evan Tanner mysteries might be my favorites by him, though. They're dated and, in many ways, absurd, but fabulous.

Carol A.Bender said...

I've got writer's guilt now, lol

Annie said...

So excited to read this! I love when I find a book by one of my favorite authors that I haven't yet read. It's like finding money in the pocket of an old coat!

Carol A.Bender said...

oops, I meant reader's guilt. It wasn't my chickens who interrupted but I was interrupted. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.

Linda at teacherdance said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog, & so I found yours! I love mysteries too, so it is lucky that's what you're reviewing! I don't know this author, and he sounds great. I like your words, "Scudder can be traced back to Hammett. Bernie back to Agatha." I'll try the scudder!

Amy said...

I'm a big mystery fan, but haven't read anything by this author. I'll have to try one of his books.

Patty said...

I really did read his books years ago...but I haven't looked at his work in a while.

Sally said...

Love the title, and always enjoy a good mystery. Will add to my TBR pile (actually my TBR list on Goodreads).