Lawrence Block is such a gifted writer that even a native New Yorker will be fooled into thinking that the Paddington Hotel, described in the opening pages of Burglar in the Rye, is a real institution. Block's descriptions of this enclave of artists, writers, and rock musicians is thoroughly convincing--although in actuality, the Paddington is a combination of the real-life Chelsea Hotel and Block's outrageous imagination.
This is Bernie Rhodenbarr's ninth heist. Bernie is a gentleman burglar who runs a used bookstore in between criminal acts, steals mostly from the rich, and only hurts people when it becomes absolutely necessary.
The Paddington is where Bernie goes to liberate the letters of a reclusive writer named Gulliver Fairborn from a literary agent. Fairborn's resemblance to J.D. Salinger and, of course, the fact that the woman who hired Bernie to steal the letters had an affair with Fairborn when she was a teenager, no doubt lend the book its title. But by the time Bernie gets to the Paddington, the agent has been shot, the letters already liberated--and a cop in the lobby recognizes our favorite burglar from a previous encounter.
Now all Bernie has to do is find out who else wanted those letters badly enough to kill for them. In typical Rhodenbarr tradition, the plot is less interesting than the trappings: the books Bernie reads, the fascinating objects he picks up along the way. The reader also learns about some mind-expanding facts, such as the existence of a tiny South American fish that swims up a man's urine stream and lodges in his private parts! Or did Block make that up, too?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful: Bernie Bearly Breaks into Burglary, May 12, 2003 Reviewer: Don Mitchell from a management consultant in Boston Lawrence Block is one of our most talented mystery authors. In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series he explores how an ordinary, but intelligent, "honest" person might go about pursuing a life of crime as a fastidious and talented burglar who isn't proud of what he does, doesn't like to hang out with criminals, and really gets a big thrill out of breaking and entering . . . and removing nonessential valuables from rich people. As you can see, there's a sitcom set-up to provide lots of humor. But the humor works well in part because Mr. Block is able to put the reader in the Bernie's shoes while he breaks, enters and steals . . . and evades the long arm of the law. To balance the "honest" burglar is an array of "dishonest" and equally easy-money loving cops. As a result, you're in a funny moral never-never land while your stomach tightens and your arm muscles twitch as tension builds. To make matters even more topsy-turvy, Bernie at some point in every story turns into an investigator who must figure out "who-dun-it" for some crime that he personally didn't do. It's almost like one of those "mystery at home" games where the victim comes back as the police investigator, playing two roles. As the series develops, Bernie has a chance to show that he has "ethics" that he follows. Very nice! So much for explaining the concept of the series. The Burglar in the Rye is the ninth book in the series. I strongly suggest that you begin the series by reading Burglars Can't Be Choosers and follow it up with The Burglar in the Closet, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart and The Burglar in the Library. Each story in the series adds information and characters in a way that will reduce your pleasure of the others if read out of order. Despite that admonition, I originally read them out of order and liked them well enough. I'm rereading them now in order, and like it much better this way. This is the last book in the series as of now. The series, always comical and satirical, continues the new turn begun in The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart. The spoof expands to the detective/thriller genre in general. I found this change to be a welcome and charming one. Anyone who is a fan of The Purloined Letter will appreciate the many references to it. The Purloined Letter has been a favorite mystery short story of mine since I was a boy along with The Red-Headed League, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deft display of the power of misdirection. Lawrence Block does a fine turn here in showing new ways to redirect attention in this entertaining literary thriller. So what's it all about? The story is loosely based on the background of one J.D. Salinger, reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye. Here, he's called Gulliver (Gully) Fairborn, and his former agent is planning to sell some of his letters, and destroy Fairborn's privacy. A beautiful woman, Alice Cottrell, asks Bernie to retrieve the letters, and Bernie becomes a hotel guest in the Paddington Hotel (themed to Paddington the bear) to give himself an inside edge. The entry into literary agent Anthea Landau's suite goes well, except Bernie finds her dead there. Right behind him are the police, and Bernie's on the run. While escaping, he manages to pick up an interesting item but soon finds himself under suspicion for the murder. Coincidences begin to pile up, and Bernie breaks and enters his way into our hearts with an outlandish scheme to remedy all the wrongs and bring the killer to justice. The resolution has great literary panache of the sort that will leave you chuckling for some time. Some of the funniest parts of this book are the on-going references to rye. Bernie starts drinking rye rather than Perrier (when he's planning to do a heist) or Scotch (when he's kicking back). He explains how rye bread is made. He reviews folk songs that mention rye. Pretty soon, lots of others are drinking rye too and discussing its merits. Bernie just can't seem to get away from rye! Does that make him a catcher? The theme of this book focuses on the importance of (and challenges involved in) maintaining privacy. Remember: It's not just celebrities who have this problem! Donald Mitchell Co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage