In mid-January, our neighbor, the mystery writer Lawrence Block, hosted a launch party at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street for his latest book, The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. Many die-hard fans appeared, as did I and other assorted friends and neighbors. He signed books, but I didn’t buy a copy, because I already owned it, having preordered it on Amazon.
Of course, I will click all five stars on Amazon for the book, because doling out any less would be giving the lie to hours of unalloyed pleasure, made even sweeter by the long wait. I’ve missed the gentleman burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, and I wasn’t even aware of how much until there I was, back in his bookstore, Barnegat Books, waiting to go have more “Juneau Lock” with his best friend, Carolyn Kaiser, at the Poodle Factory. “Juneau Lock”? That’s just one of the mysteries—mysteries inside mysteries like Chinese boxes in this one, a masterful return to form, in which, finally, the wiseass detective, Ray Kirschmann, unofficially consults Bernie without actually wanting him for the crime first.
Not that Bernie doesn’t commit plenty of breaking-and-entering as usual, maybe even a little more than usual. We hit the ground running with a fancy break-in at one of those mansion museums north of the city that New Yorkers don’t actually have time to visit, and the story never lets up. True, you will learn a lot about spoons, early American silversmiths, and a few obscure fellows who signed our Declaration of Independence, but these charming factoids weave themselves seamlessly into the otherwise galloping narrative, and afterwards you may find yourself thinking about spoons the way this reader finds herself thinking about stamps after finishing one of Mr. Block’s “Keller” thrillers.
In case someone reading this isn’t hooked on Block yet, there are several major Block series: Bernie Rhodenbarr, the gifted burglar who solves murders; Matthew Scudder, the ex-cop private eye who has a hard time getting sober, chronically underearns, and is deeply involved with a hooker; and for the true cultist, the darling, stamp-collecting hit-man, Keller. First, I belonged wholeheartedly to the Scudder camp (no wonder: Liam Neeson plays Scudder in A Walk Among the Tombstones, which I understand is coming out in the spring) and later I’d have to say I fell in with the Keller extremists. Bernie Rhodenbarr was for girls. He was almost too much fun. Yet, Scudder and Keller are both getting older; they have the misfortune of existing in time a lot like us. Bernie never ages; neither does Carolyn, his lesbian best friend, or even her cats. Bernie is ageless, and the longer I’m around, the more I’ve come to appreciate that. Add to that, it just so happens I am a girl. I’m fast becoming a fan of nimbleness–nimble writing, plotting and burgling—so, ipso facto, here I am, squarely in the Rhodenbarr camp (at least until the next Scudder or Keller appears).
Finally, I can never mention Lawrence Block without attesting to his grasp of city life, which is unparalleled as far as I’m concerned. I have lived here all my life, and therefore I am qualified to speak out about this. Rarely have I read an author who gets the town I live in, all its overlapping tiny villages (including ours) and their often strangely quiet side streets; the uptown and down of it; the taxis and subways and late-night empty avenues of it; the many small quotidian joys of it, like “Juneau Lock” for instance…Next time your mother-in-law wants to comes to New York to visit, send her Lawrence Block’s The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons instead. It’ll take her there.
“The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons” is currently available on Amazon in Kindle version or, for book lovers who like their page-turners with real pages, as print-on-demand. There’s also a limited edition version for collectors. If you don’t like buying books on the computer, you can get it at Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street.