Book review: “Burglars Can’t Be Choosers” by Lawrence Block

block --- burglarsI’m not exactly sure why I liked Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr crime novel Burglars Can’t Be Choosers.

This 1977 book was the first of 10 in which smart-aleck Bernie, a burglar by trade, solves crimes. By the third, he was also a bookstore owner. An 11th volume is slated to hit bookstores in late December.

Choosers is about the problems Bernie faces when he’s caught by two cops in the midst of burglarizing an apartment. That’s not so bad. With $1,000 in his pocket, Bernie’s able to bribe the officers. However, everything goes kerflooey when one of the cops decides to take a leak. He comes back from the bathroom to announce that he’s found a dead body — and promptly faints. Bernie blind-sides the other cop and skedaddles.

“The Whole Business”

For much of the book, Bernie spends his time hiding out in an apartment he breaks into. It belongs to an actor whom he knows is on tour. In fact, as Bernie says at one point “the whole business was lousy with actors and theater buffs.”

There were convoluted reasons he was breaking into that particular apartment, having to do with an actor and a theater buff. There are false names and a variety of lies and masquerades, and a couple women hot for our burglar. And a lot about locks. As you’d expect.

The story was easy to read — amiable, so to speak. I could pick it up and be right back in the flow of Block’s prose. On the other hand, I never felt a great pull to get back into its pages. If it sat for a couple days, OK. If I got around to opening it again, OK.

Opposite of “angst”

Bernie was witty in a low-key way. Neither he nor the other characters took much of anything seriously, even Bernie’s murder charge. I’m not sure what the opposite of “angst” is, but whatever it is, Choosers is rife with it.

The plot moved too slowly for my taste. Mostly, the lack of action was balanced by Bernie’s quips and his colorful perspective on things. Generally, that was OK.

Ultimately, the solution was too convoluted to be believable — even believable in the context of a genre crime novel. And the action depended much too much on coincidence.

Still, as I say, I liked the book. It didn’t demand much of me, and I didn’t demand much of it.

Reading it was OK. And if I never read another Bernie Rhodenbarr crime novel, that would be OK, too.

Patrick T. Reardon

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