One Good Thing that happened at the end of 2013 was that Lawrence Block, one of my favorite writers, independently published The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, the latest installment in his Bernie Rhodenbarr series, on Christmas Day. Since I am on Block’s mailing list, I had pre-ordered the book, so I knew I would have an enjoyable read waiting when my Christmas company went home.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Bernie has barely changed a hair since I first met him (while, Mr. Block and I have both grown a good bit older) back in 1992 or so. That was the year that Mr. Block and I were both on the bill to read from our work at the now defunct Science Fiction, Mysteries, and More bookshop in downtown Manhattan. Mr. Block read his Bernie short story, “Like a Thief in the Night,” and I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve read all the Bernie books (not to mention anything else by Mr Block that I can get my little paws on), and have loved them all. I was even part of the conspiracy to buy Bernie a bench in Bryant Park, and was there for the reading/ribbon cutting.
That all disclosed, let me just say the new book is a joy. From the mystery of “Juneau Lock,” to treating on how used bookstores are being affected by the advent of Kindles and the like, to tie-ins between historical figures,writers, and several manuscripts, to Bernie and his friends and colleagues, along with the requisite murder for Bernie to solve, this has all the elements of a good Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. The important thing for me, however, is – as always – the writing. I have read all of Mr. Block’s series, and the writing is different in all of them (and even moreso in his books on writing, race-walking, and stamp collecting). In this series the writing sparkles. Yes, Bernie is witty and mordant, and all that good stuff, but more than that, the writing pretty much skips lightly across the page, creating exactly the kind f atmosphere you would expect to be around a sophisticated, gentleman burglar. The other thing that makes Bernie stand out for me – although this is also true about his other anti-hero, Keller, to a lesser degree – is that Bernie is so darned likeable. This is important, since most of us do not normally root for a burglar (or a hitman), and Mr. Block easily gets us to do so.
Yes, to some degree the Bernie books have a formula, but they never come across as formulaic. For me, the formula is more like a clothesmaker’s frame, waiting for new fabric to be draped on it in different and interesting ways.
Picking up any of Mr. Block’s series books always feels to me like catching up with an old friend, but this is even more true with Bernie than the others, since he is the first of Mr. Block’s characters that I met. Mr. Block wrote this book after announcing his retirement, and has now declared that it seems he doesn’t do very well at being retired. I, as I am sure many other readers are, am delighted at this, and I hope it means more books (and more Bernie books) in future.