Lawrence Block, The Burglar in the Library


Lawrence Block is a Grand Master and living legend of American crime fiction. Regarded by some aficionados as just about the coolest of the noir writers, his Scudder series is certainly one of the high points of American detective fiction during recent times. This one of his sophisticated crook Bernie Rhodenbarr detective novels with an appreciation by crime writer James Sallis.

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Lawrence Block has been, and continues to be, the most industrious purveyor of a wide range of American crime fiction; from comic to the tragic, the ridiculous to the sublime, light-hearted to the most serious of subjects – it is all in his range. Block is the one the others point to as the master craftsman of the genre. With a shelf full of awards (including four Edgars, four Shamus Awards, two Maltese Falcon Awards, the Nero Wolfe Award, and Grandmaster status from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of the United Kingdom), he is the one others point to as the master craftsman of the genre. Compulsive plots, deft characterisation and dialogue the zing’s. Lawrence Block continues to be the bench mark for high quality noir.

The Burglar in the Library (1997) is the eighth entry in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series that currently stands at ten. Plotline: What’s Bernie Rhodenbarr doing in the country? He is a New York kind of guy, an urbane antiquarian bookseller who moonlights as a buttoned down burglar. Until an impossibly rare Raymond Chandler novel dedicated to Dashiell Hammett lures him and his buddy, Carolyn, from their own turf to the hills of Western Massachusetts. Before they knows it, they’re smack in the middle of Agatha Christie country and you know what that means. A classic English country house. A guest list awash in eccentricity. And the snow keeps falling. And the bridge is out. And the phone lines are cut. And, one by one, somebody’s killing off the guests. And….shhhh! There’s a burglar in the library!

A Lawrence Block story appeared in the anthology No Alibi and he did an appreciation of Ian Rankin for the short story collection Beggars Banquet. Other Scorpion Press editions by Block are Hope to Die and All the Flowers are Dying. This edition of 99 signed and numbered copies contains an appreciation by cool crime writer and critic James Sallis.

4.50 out of 5

2 reviews for Lawrence Block, The Burglar in the Library

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Kirkus Reviews on June 6, 2012 :

    All princely burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr wanted was to steal off to the Berkshires for a romantic weekend with Lettice Runcible at the oh-so-English Cuttleford House, then to go home with a rumored Cuttleford book–a copy of The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler inscribed to Dashiell Hammett–that wasn’t his. But things don’t exactly work out that way. First off, Lettice announces that she can’t go because she’s getting married that weekend, and when Bernie handsomely adapts by bringing his platonic chum Carolyn Kaiser along instead, who should complete the fanciful assortment of guests at Cuttleford House but Lettice and her bridegroom? As for the library that Bernie hopes to plunder, it’s got more foot traffic than the Library of Congress, even before the discovery of a guest’s cooling corpse makes it the center of attention. The sedate country-house setting, the general jollity (the grue is leavened by a precocious ten-year- old and the casual slaughters of several victims who barely have names, much less faces), and, above all, the body-in-the-library scream Agatha Christie, but the killer’s model seems to be Christie’s darkest novel: And Then There Were None. The cut phone lines, the sabotaged snowblower, the ruined bridge to the outside world–all these retro trappings climax in a denouement (in the library, naturally) that must be one of the most deliriously overextended in the history of the genre. Bernie, evidently recovered from his most recent folly (The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, 1995), has a fine time mocking the conventions of Christie’s bygone age. Fans who don’t insist on plotting as tight as Christie’s will enjoy themselves just as much as if it were her. Kirkus Reviews

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Mystery/Thriller Book reviews on June 6, 2012 :

    Expert burglar and sometime bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr is crushed when his current squeeze is forced to break their date for a cozy New England weekend getaway — unfortunately, she is marrying someone else that weekend. Bravely carrying on, Bernie decides to go anyway and talks his good friend Carolyn into going with him. After all, the library of the charming inn is rumored to have a rare, inscribed first edition of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler in residence, just ripe for the taking. When Bernie and Carolyn arrive they are met with one surprise after another. The inn and its residents could have come straight from an Agatha Christie novel — the jolly soldier, the spinsters, the garrulous downstairs maid et al. Then Bernie’s ex-girlfriend and her new husband show up, dead bodies start turning up and the guests are all trapped by a snowstorm. It’s up to Bernie to solve the murders, find the missing book — and make it home alive.

    Lawrence Block just keeps getting better and better, and The Burglar in the Library is convincing proof of that fact. This is a charming and erudite romp where the classic conventions of an English murder mystery are turned upside down with panache. Bernie is a droll fellow whose narrative style is quite appealing. A wonderful escape for anyone who enjoys a bit of irreverence with their Golden Age mysteries. Mystery/Thriller Book reviews

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