Cover of The Burglar in the Rye

The Burglar in the Rye
Lawrence Block
280 pages
published in 1999

This is the second Bernie Rhodenbarr novel I've read, which was written exactly twenty years after The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling. Not that this has made much difference to our hero; the world may have changed, he's still the same. Such is the fate of a hero in a long running series.

What's more worrying is that his adventures haven't changed either, as the story here follows exactly the same lines as that earlier novel: Bernie goes out burgling, stumbles on a corpse, gets implicated, then has to prove his innocence, find the real murderer and still get the loot. In fact, this seems to be the formula for all of the Rhodenbarr books. Which means that if you mainly read novels for the plotting, you won't find much new here. Then again, who only reads novels for the plotting?

I certainly don't. Nor should you, at least not with the Rhodenbarr novels, because you will be disappointed. Instead I read them because while the plot skeleton is a bit deficient, the meat on its bones is nice and succulent. The dialogue and witty asides between Bernie and his friends and adversaries just sparkles, is sometimes extremely funny. The main characters all breathe, are real human beings, if a bit cliched at times, but hey, who isn't? Finally, and this is what will keep me reading them, the books are steeped in bibliomania.

For one thing, Bernie runs a secondhand bookstore as a front and hobby, so inbetween the obligatory plot movements, you get a bit of bookstore lore and anecdotes, as well as Bernie talking aobut his recent reading. If you could step into his bookstore, you get the feeling you could talk quite nicely with him about the last book you had read.

For another, the plots often revolve around books. In this particular case Bernie wants to steal the letters his favourite author wrote to his agent, in order to prevent them from being auctioned off, the writer being a bit of a recluse. It's when he's in the process of doing so that he stumbles over the corpse of said agent.

Hijinks and complications then naturally ensue, with Bernie trying to both prove his innocence as a murderer and a burglar, various people crawling out of the woodwork offering money for the letters, a secondary plot which seems to be unrelated to the main plot but that in the end does tie in to it and a denouncement that for me at least came out of left field and felt forced.

But nevermind, while the trip may have been through familair country and the destination not as good as you'd hoped, the journey itself was fun.

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Webpage created 20-03-2002, last updated 07-04-2002
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