March 05, 2004

The Burglar in the Library, by Lawrence Block

I like Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr stories. They amuse me. I have found that I need to space them out and not read them back to back, however, since he tends to repeat details from one book to another. It can get annoying if you donít give yourself enough space between them. But it's been awhile since I last read one and I found this one on my shelf one night as I was prowling around looking for something to read so I gave it a go.

One thing you have to know is that this series is fairly formulaic. Bernie is going to burgle, is in the process of burgling, or has just burgled some place, and someone shows up dead there. Bernie then has to find the murderer or he's going to end up taking the blame. That has been the essential plot line of every book in this series that I've read so far. But this one is very different, enjoyably so.

Bernie has a hot weekend planned with his latest flame in a quiet country inn in upstate New York. Unfortunately, she cancels on him a couple days before because she's, yikes, about to get married. Bernie was not aware of the other guy in her life and he is understandably bummed out. But he's not so bummed that he cancels the trip. Rather, he invites his extremely short friend the lesbian dog groomer along instead. Not exactly the romantic weekend he had planned but then the owner of the inn stocks a particularly fine brand of whiskey which at least makes up for it a little. And there is this book in the library of the inn that he's kind of interested in finding. It's a book by Raymond Chandler, inscribed to Dashiell Hammett, that may have been given to Hammett during a weekend they may have spent together that Hammett may have left at the inn. Maybe. He's just going to take a little looksee around.

Things get interesting when they get there. They have to share a room and a bed. The inn is snowed in and the snowstorm is predicted to last all weekend. There is an extremely precocious kid that Bernie jokingly tells he's a burglar, which she blabs all over the place. Fortunately, it's such an absurd statement that no one believes it. Ha! And amazingly enough, his ex-girlfriend and her groom show up for a quiet honeymoon weekend. Awkward isn't strong enough. And then, he finds a body in the library when he's out cruising in the middle of the night for the book. No phone, no one in or out because of the snow and no way to call for help.

I enjoyed this one more than the others. Block is playing around with some of the basic conventions of mysteries and mystery writers here and still telling a funny whodunit. And the ending with it's nod to the deus ex machina strategy to save the hero is hilarious, especially when you realize who the deus is in the machina. If you like Block, get it and read.

Posted by Deb English at March 5, 2004 06:51 PM