Lawrence Block,
Burglar on the Prowl
(HarperCollins, 2004)

Most crime/mystery writers have one main series character or pairing -- Lee Child has Jack Reacher, Janet Evanovich has Stephanie Plum, Robert Crais has Elvis and Joe, Dennis Lehane has Patrick and Angie -- but Lawrence Block likes to play with a more varied deck. There's Evan Tanner (the insomniac), Matt Scudder (the P.I.), Chip Harrison (the youngster), Keller (the hit-man) and Bernie Rhodenbarr (the burglar). As you'd guess, Burglar on the Prowl is a Bernie Rhodenbarr book.

Bernie is a modern-day thief who runs Barnegat Books, on East 11th Street, New York. At least, that's his day job. By night he breaks into people's homes. He's a knight in tarnished armour, has a cat called Raffles (naturally enough) and has discovered that he can't give up his thievery no matter how hard he doesn't try. "It's an addiction, a compulsion, and so far I haven't found a 12-step program that addresses it," he says. It's this inability to fight off his natural urges that makes him a Burglar on the Prowl.

This tale is the 10th in a series that started in 1977. It begins when a friend, and former victim, Marty Gilmartin, asks him to do a larcenous favour to hurt a low-down no-good plastic surgeon who has stolen away his girl. After that it all gets a little convoluted. I'd give the plot away but there are so many twists I wasn't following it as much as being dragged along by it to the last few chapters. It's then that, following tradition, Bernie draws together all 22 protagonists, hugs them together with "the long arm of coincidence" and explains what's been going on. And what's been going on involves opportunist thievery on the part of Bernie, date rape (not his doing), Latvia, plastic surgery, the Mob and the Feds.

I found it to be a fun if totally unrealistic and thus totally undemanding tale, yet the characters that Block draws with great skill are entertaining enough to hold the attention. This particular novel is not so much a romp as a rompette, but it still made me smile even when it wasn't making me laugh out loud. On the light-entertainment side of the crime/mystery genre, it doesn't get much better written than this.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 30 October 2004

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