Bittersweet news for fans who’ve missed Bernie Rhodenbarr even since The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons (2013): Everyone’s favorite bookseller/burglar is back for a 12th, and presumably final, volume, which is not a novel but a collection of short pieces.
The valedictory tone of Block’s Foreword and Afterword, the first a chatty narrative overview of the backstories behind each of the 13 reprints sandwiched in between, the second a playful dialogue between author and character, isn’t the only reason that this good news isn’t great news. Five of the items here are bite-sized monologues or dialogues in which Bernie and his pals hold forth on the Flat Earth Society, fictional New York murder sites, five books or series (Richard Stark, John Sandford, Agatha Christie) Bernie’s really liked, how stealing keeps Bernie honest, or why burgling isn’t what it used to be. Another is Block’s longer but equally one-note reflection on the bizarre casting of Whoopi Goldberg as Bernie in the 1987 film Burglar, based on The Burglar in the Closet (1978). Three more are chapters excerpted from The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling (1979) and The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994). That leaves exactly four short stories. In “A Bad Night for Burglars” (1977), Block auditions an anonymous precursor of Bernie. “Like a Thief in the Night” (1983) introduces Bernie to a female counterpart robbing the same office. A tabloid reporter hires Bernie to photograph the off-limits bedroom in Graceland in “The Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis” (1989). “The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke” (1997) is a locked-library murder co-authored with Lynne Wood Block that’s as obvious as it is ingenious. Since all four of these stories have already appeared in Block’s comprehensive collection Enough Rope (2002), virtually all the reading material here is actually rereading material.
Fences pay burglars pennies on the dollar. Hungry fans will devour this skimpy opus despite the absence of new material.