The Burglar who like to Quote Kipling
by Lawrence Block
1979 Nero Award
4 stars - excellent, fun read
Given how prolific Lawrence Block is, I am surprised that I have never read any of his books.
I decided to branch out a bit and try a different award winning book list. There are a boatload of different awards for mystery novels, but I selected the Nero award which is presented for "literary excellence in the mystery genre."
I'm not sure about the literary part, but this sure was a great book and I found my fingers itching to pick it up and continue reading even when I was really supposed to be doing other activities.
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar living in New York City. This is the third book in a series and we find him running a used book store (but still not ready to give up his old life). Not only does he run the store, but he really is a book junkie and there are great snippets about the love of books. In particular, towards the end of the story, Bernie can tell he is holding a copy (albeit a copy true to the original) of a rare book. How? Because he loves handling books, knowing them tactilely, and he can just "feel" that it is not the same volume as the original. That's a man after my own heart.
The breaking and entering descriptions are fascinating and it's hard not to like Bernie even though he is routinely stealing what is not his. He does have a conscious (as in thoughtfully topping off the gas tank on a car he "borrows" for transport before returning it to its parking spot).
The mystery itself centers around Bernie for hire to acquire a rare edition of Kipling for an avid collector. Well, things don't go as planned and before he knows it, Bernie is on the run, having been framed for murder, and his mission is to identify the real killer before the cops close in on him.
He picks up a sidekick, Carolyn, a dog groomer and good friend, who becomes quite enamored with Bernie's skills at breaking and entering. Carolyn is a lesbian, so no romantic interest, which suited me just fine. When I first meet a character, I'd rather get to know him or her before I have to deal with their love life.
The story is plausible, not overly complex (my poor brain) and the ending, while a bit rushed, is satisfying.
Note that 1979 was longer ago than I care to think, so even though the writing has a contemporary feel, I had to keep reminding myself that there was no Internet, no cell phones, no laptops because there are some frustratingly low tech moments (who remembers Polaroid cameras).
Ten books in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series. I've gone ahead and ordered a copy of the first book, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, form the library. At least that way I'll have a sure thing to cleanse my reading pallet after I slog through the next Pulitzer winner.