Lawrence Block


Bernie Rhodenbarr - Bookseller-by-day/burglar-by-night, New York City
Matt Scudder -
Unlicensed Private Investigator, New York City
John Keller - Assassin

"The Burglar on the Prowl"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye MAR 16, 2004)

In The Burglar on the Prowl, Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr, the so-called bookseller-by-day/burglar-by-night (at least some nights), is at it again. In this delightful 10th book of Block's Bernie series, the first of which, Burglars Can't Be Choosers, dates back to 1977, a married friend requests Bernie's assistance in extracting revenge upon a so-called "Shitheel" (also married) who has stolen the friend's young girl friend. The friend is Marty Gilmartin, the fellow with the valuable baseball card collection which Bernie steals in Bernie book # 6, The Burglar who traded Ted Williams. Bernie's theft of Marty's cards did not hinder Bernie's and Marty's ability to become friends; both managed to benefit from it: with the money he received from the sale of the stolen cards, Bernie was able to buy the building that houses his bookstore, Barnegat Books, and the insurance proceeds from the robbery solved the severe cash flow problems that confronted Marty at the time.

The Shitheel in question is Dr. Crandall Roundtree Mapes, a plastic surgeon. Marty had learned that Mapes is the "go to" guy for shady characters who need certain discreet procedures from time to time, such as the removal of a bullet or the change in one's facial appearance so that it no longer matches the picture on posters hanging in post offices. Such clientele do not want the procedure recorded in any way and are understandably averse to paying Mapes in any manner other than cash. Thus, Marty surmised that a healthy sum of money was secreted in Mapes' bedroom safe and asked Bernie to do him a favor by stealing it. Bernie was only too happy to do so in consideration for however much he found, less the 15% finder's fee due Marty. Bernie was happier still about the haul's potential after he discovered the one weakness in the otherwise air-tight security protecting Mapes's house in the Riverdale section of Bronx during a reconnaissance visit a couple of days before the planned burglary.

Right after behaving like a prudent burglar by exercising proper preparation and planning prior to the actual Mapes break-in, Bernie let depression over his then non-existent love life gets the better of him. An actress on a TV show reminds him of a former girlfriend, and he is so upset that he pockets his burglar tools and goes out "on the prowl" to get his mind off the sad state of his love life. He roams about the Murray Hill section of Manhattan and picks out a suitable townhouse to burglar. He gains entry to a then empty top floor apartment and all goes well until he is about to leave, when the woman occupant returns with a man. Bernie hides in the only place available: under the bed. He does get out unscathed, but not before witnessing a date-rape incident about which he cannot do anything at the time, but about which he subsequently makes amends to the rape victim and she eventually becomes his girl friend.

Unbeknownst to Bernie, while he roamed the streets of Murray Hill, he was picked up by security cameras near a building where, and around the time when, three persons were killed and a safe seemingly expertly cracked. Being a known convicted burglar in close proximity of a burglary, Bernie gets arrested the following day by his police pal and series regular, Ray Kirshmann, on suspicion of being involved in the break in. As no other evidence tied him to the scene of the crime and as violence was never part of Bernie's MO, Bernie's attorney Wally Hemphill, another series regular, secures his prompt release and gets the charges dropped. However, his arrest was widely publicized and the next thing Bernie knows his apartment is ransacked, with nothing taken except for his "Get out of Dodge" emergency fund of $8,357 from its secret hiding place. Then, on the following day, a customer is gunned down and killed as the customer leaves Bernie's store, and the bag with the book he just purchased is taken from him by the gunman, who escapes by car.

Bernie and the police can only surmise that whoever was involved in the three-person murder and burglary in Murray Hill did not get what they were looking for and must have assumed Bernie had it and in turn burglarized his apartment and then killed the customer, thinking that Bernie gave or sold the customer whatever it was the criminals desperately sought.

None of this deterred Bernie from his planned, uninvited visit to Mapes' Riverdale house and safe. Accompanied by Carolyn Kaiser, his daily lunch companion, drinking buddy and series regular since book # 3 (The Burglar who liked to quote Kipling), who provided Bernie a vital hand in gaining entry to the Mapes house, the Mapes burglary grossed Bernie the tidy sum of $237,000. Significantly, while in the Mapes residence Bernie finds evidence that connects Mapes to the craziness of the past couple of days, which is the first of numerous coincidences (what Bernie refers to as "the long arm of coincidence") that by the end of the book will send heads spinning.

The next several days are spent by Bernie tracking down leads and hunches to get to the bottom of the four murders and the break-in of his apartment. His efforts are assisted in part by Ray Kirshmann and by Bernie's own ability to gain access to places without invitation or keys. Eventually, he is ready to sort it all out and calls (for want of a better word) a "Summit" at Mapes' house, where the varied persons with some interest in the matter at hand are invited. As it is in all of the Bernie books, the Summit is introduced by the nearly immortal words: "I suppose you're wondering why I summoned you all here.."

Gathered are a number of mobsters of Italian and Russian descent and a couple of patriots from a particular Baltic state. Law enforcement is represented by Ray and two fellow members of the NYPD and by a couple of IRS agents. Marty Gilmartin is there, as well as Marisol Maris, Marty's and Mapes' ex-girlfriend. All in all, the Summit drew a total of 22 persons, without counting Bernie and Mapes. In vintage Bernie fashion, using what he knew was true, what he guessed to be true and a couple of deliberately orchestrated falsehoods, Bernie unravels the numerous coincidences, solves the four murders, the break-in of his apartment, and (most importantly) identifies what was at the center of all the commotion. All of this despite a good deal of chaos from a lot of debating, shouting, even some shooting and carrying out of bodies, as well as the escorting of several attendees from the Summit in handcuffs. But after the dust finally settles, Bernie in his usual inimitable fashion "pulled a few rabbits out of a hat," as Ray Kirshmann predicted he would, and had the whole affair neatly wrapped up and justice more or less accomplished.

The above description of The Burglar on the Prowl is incomplete and skimpy in order not to spoil the story for the reader. It is just not possible to effectively convey how entertaining and witty Block's narrative is from start to finish; for this, the book simply has to be read. Worthy of particular note is Chapter 6 which is an extraordinary discussion of the pros and cons of a career in burglary. Also, although born in Buffalo, NY, Lawrence Block has thoroughly adopted New York City as his home, and the Big Apple is part of the very core of his being. Like many of his books which are based in New York City (and most of them are), Prowl is sprinkled with clever quips about the City that will greatly amuse its natives and provide non-New Yorkers with special insights into this great City.

If there is an award or honor available to be bestowed on a mystery writer, it would be safe to bet that Block has already received it. The Mystery Writers of America have named him a Grand Master. Different books of his have been given Edgar, Shamus and Maltese Falcon awards. His virtuoso writing skills are reflected by his prolific body of work, numbering in excess of 50 novels since the publication of his first one in 1961. A majority of his books belong to one of the five remarkable series involving the distinctive array of characters Block has created and sustained over the years; in addition to the affable burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr, there are: ex-cop/ex-drunk Matt Scudder; the spy who could not sleep, Evan Tanner; the pubescent private-eye in training, Chip Harrison; and Block's latest creation, the brooding hitman, Keller. And his work has not escaped international recognition. For example, on May 12, 2004, Block will be honored by the Crime Writers Association of the United Kingdom and given its Cartier Diamond Dagger award for lifetime achievement. With the publication of The Burglar on the Prowl, Block continues to add to his great writing accomplishments.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 31 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Hard Case Crimes reprints:

Matthew Scudder Mysteries

Keller Series:

Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries (reprinted 2006)

Evan Tanner Mysteries (reprinted in 2007):

Writing as Paul Kavanagh

Nonfiction:

Movies from Books:

  • Nightmare Honeymoon (based on Deadly Honeymoon)
  • Eight Million Ways to Die (1985)
  • Burglar (loosely based on The Burglar in the Closet) (1987)
  • Keller (based on Hit Man)
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Lawrence BlockLawrence Block was born in Buffalo, New York in 1938. He attended Antioch College in Ohio then went to work in the mailroom of a New York publisher. His first story was published in 1957 and since has written more than thirty novels and countless stories and articles, not just under his own name but also as Paul Kavanagh. Indeed Lawrence Block has had several pseudonyms having learned his writer's art crafting erotic literature as Andrew Shaw, Sheldon Lord and Jill Emerson.

His novels range from the urban noir of Matthew Scudder to the urbane effervescence of Bernie Rhodenbarr, while other characters include the globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner and the introspective assassin Keller (Hit List). He has published articles and short fiction in American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, GQ, and The New York Times, and has published several collections of short fiction in book form, the most recent being his Collected Mystery Stories. Larry is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe award. In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. Most recently he was awarded the Crime Writers Association Cartier Diamond Dagger 2004 award, rarely awarded to American writers. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, and, as if that were not enough, was presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. He is a past president of the Private Eye Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America.

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