Before Bernie Sanders there was Bernie Rhodenbarr, Lawrence Block’s expert thief and used bookstore owner. While Bern is good at his chosen profession, unfortunate situations always seem to occur, like an unexpected dead body showing up at the wrong time which forces our anti-hero to have to investigate the murder in order to clear his name.
I have been a admirer of Lawrence Block’s work for years now. He first came to my attention one day, during a lunch break from work, browsing the bookshelves in one of the local libraries. It was one of the his Bernie/Burglar books that caught my attention.
Bernie first appeared in 1977 with Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. With his second outing, the series settled in a series of titles beginning with The Burglar Who… With the third book in the series, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, published in 1979, Bernie acquired a bookstore in Greenwich Village. Eventually, Bernie got a cat he named Raffles, a gift from his best friend and Village soulmate Carolyn Kaiser. After all, what second hand bookstore doesn’t need a cat?
In all, there are eleven books in the series plus a few short stories. There is not a bad one in the bunch. The last one, The Burglar Who Counted Spoons, was published in 2013 after a nine year hiatus. The books are chock full of sharp witty dialogue and wonderful characters.
If you are familiar with Lawrence Block, you know that The Burglar books are just a small piece of his complete output of work. Block’s other great character is Matt Scudder, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic who does “favors” for friends and clients. Scudder quit the force after accidently causing the death of a young girl. His life soon fell apart; he left his family and moved into an old hotel in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen area where he earned money working as a unlicensed P.I. doing those “favors” as he called them. The Scudder books, as you may have guessed, are much darker but just as brilliantly written.
In 2014, an excellent adaptation was made of his novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, with Liam Neeson as Scudder. Until this film, Block had not had much luck with his work being transferred to the screen. From Nightmare Honeymoon to Burglar, one was worst than the other. In the latter film, Bernie was transformed into Bernice and portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg. Nothing against Ms. Goldberg, but who the hell thought this was a good idea?
From what I have read Block has not expressed much interest in doing anymore Bernie books. Which for me and many fans is sad. Still, we can hope.