Burglars can’t be Choosers and The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.

These are the first two books in a long-running series about burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. Bernie is a cool character, perfectly immoral when it comes to other people’s property, daring, professional and charming. The books are a light-hearted blending of the traditional cozy mystery and the rogue genre, because the sleuth is a criminal. Being a criminal, he has obvious problems. The only cop likely to take him seriously is bent and needs to be bribed before he will do anything for him, and in both these books Bernie is a suspect in the murders, so has to go not only undercover to solve the murders, but on the lam as well to avoid being arrested for them.

I have read a fair number of rogue stories (e.g. Raffles, Arsene Lupin) but Bernie is the first of the rogue heroes I have really liked. I hated the Raffles stories - Raffles is mean and Bunny such a wimp that it’s a wonder anyone likes them at all, plus the stories are badly written, and several other rogue heroes are into tricking and taunting the police who of course are always dumber than jellyfish. Bernie is the first I have come across who seems to simply make a living off crime without wanting to attract attention or taunt the authorities, and the stories do not hinge on anyone being unnaturally stupid.

In Burglars can’t be Choosers, Bernie is hired to steal a small box that’s supposed to be hidden in a desk. He doesn’t bother to peep into every room of the apartment before he starts to look for the box, which turns out to be a mistake, because when two cops rush into the apartment, one of them finds a recently murdered man in the bedroom. Bernie manages to make a quick escape, and spends the next several days hiding out and desperately investigating the murder, which looks very much like a set-up.

In The Burglar in the Closet, he is again hired to perform a burglary, and is actually in the apartment when the owner comes home unexpectedly, lets in someone she knows and is murdered. Suspicion falls on him when his (innocent) “employer” is arrested for the crime (the victim was his ex wife), and decides to save his own skin and give Bernie to the cops as a possible suspect. Again, Bernie has to hide out and investigate in order to avoid going to jail. The Whoopi Goldberg movie Burglar was ever so slightly based on this story.

Rating: Light-hearted and entertaining murder mysteries with a likeable “hero”. 3+ stars.


Dorte H said…
I have read a couple of Lawrence Block´s novels and liked them, but they are very varied, aren´t they.

Recently I got a free review copy of "A Drop of the Hard Stuff", his latest Matt Scutter mystery, but I never made it past the first scene with some whisky-drinking blokes.
Bibliophile said…
These are the only two I have ever made it the whole way through. I have tried reading a couple of other books in the series and suddenly found the style (and Bernie) annoying. I have one Tanner book in my TBR which I'll read (or attempt to read) whenever I get round to it.

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