Lawrence Block is a top-flight professional who has written numerous novels featuring extremely diverse characters and situations. His characterization ranges from the grim depths glimpsed in some of his non-series books and in his series about alcoholic ex-policeman Matthew Scudder, to the lightweight but amusing private eye/writer Chip Harrison, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, and spy Evan Tanner. Whether Block is chronicling a deadly search or a playful romp, he is a consummate master of suspense and manages to keep his reader fearing for the safety of — and solidly rooting for — his protagonist until the last page is turned.The Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block now consists of 11 books. The series started in 1977, although the first book, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, was not intended to be the start of a series. The most recent book was published in 2013. I read some of these books many years ago; they would have been from the first five books which were published between 1977 and 1983.
This post on Burglars Can't Be Choosers is my submission for Past Offences' monthly Crimes of the Century feature, for the year chosen for April, 1977.
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a burglar. He is proud and confident of his ability at his craft. However he is a loner, and his acquaintances and neighbors have no idea how he supports himself. He usually scouts out his own heists, but this time he accepts an assignment from a stranger to break into an apartment and steal a blue leather box. The problem is he can't find the blue box, and while he is searching for it two policemen come into the apartment. But, worst of all, there is a dead man in the bedroom. Bernie successfully eludes the policemen but he then has the problem of not being able to return to his apartment. Not wanting to leave New York, he begins to try to clear his name.
This is another series that I find most appealing for the characters. Bernie tells his story in first person, and he is a very likable character. I don't condone burglary, but he makes you forget that his chosen profession is illegal and harmful. And, of course, he only robs the rich. He has been described as the Robin Hood type, but since his goal is to support himself, I don't see that as a fitting description.
Not only is Bernie charming, but he runs into many interesting people as he endeavors to prove that he is not a murderer. The setting is New York, and I enjoyed this picture of New York in the 1970's. The story is full of coincidences but none of them detracted from my enjoyment of the resolution of this mystery.
Of course, I have several more books in this series, and I look forward to finding out how Bernie's life as an unrepentant burglar progresses (as I remember very little about the books I read earlier).
The paperback reprint edition that I read includes a short essay about how Lawrence Block came to write this first book in the Burglar series. Lawrence Block has another popular series set in New York about Matt Scudder, an ex-cop who becomes an unlicensed private investigator. That one also started in the 1970s and continued for many years, the last book having been published in 2011. The author has also edited two anthologies of short stories set in New York, Manhattan Noir and Manhattan Noir 2: The Classics.
Publisher: Onyx, 1995. Orig. pub. 1977.
Length: 283 pages
Series: Bernie Rhodenbarr, #1
Setting: New York City
Source: I purchased my copy.