Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr is one of my favorite fictional characters. This short story, co-written with Lynn Wood Block who as Mr. Block explains came up with the original idea and did the research. He later sat down and wrote the story.
Bernie Rhodenbarr, used bookstore owner and master thief, meets with Karl Bellermann, an eccentric book collector. Karl’s books are the most important things in his life. Bernie’s there to offer Karl a rare special edition to add to his collection in return for a nice price. Upon his arrival Karl shows Bernie his private library containing his massive collection and tells him of the great lengths he has gone to protect his books from any sort of thief or man-made or natural disaster.
Bernie and Karl have lunch together. Afterward, before any transaction can proceed, it’s time for the eccentric collector to lock himself in his library to read for four hours, something he does like clockwork every day from 2PM to 6PM.
During this four hour interlude, Bernie gets a bit “familiar” with Karl’s beautiful wife. The time passes quickly. When Karl’s wife realizes it’s almost 6PM and her husband will be exiting his book room right on time like he always does, it’s panic time! She jumps out of bed, gets dressed and runs downstairs. The panic increases when the always punctual Karl does not come out of the library at exactly 6PM as he always does. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong.
Lawrence Block has written a fascinating short story, a locked room mystery both absorbing and with an ending carefully explained. The one problem is there are only a few characters making the ‘who done it’ part rather evident but that does not negate from enjoying this tale.