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There is a certain paradox with the title of the most recent book by Lawrence Block that I have read as I believe that burglars can in fact be quite choosey. To be successful in their chosen profession I assume that they must pick carefully which target would reap the largest rewards for the smallest risk. However, perhaps Block is commenting on the substance abuse that many thieves suffer from which forces them to rob so that they can get their next fix? Or maybe I am looking far too deeply into the title and Block just thought it sounded good?
Bernie Rhodenbarr has been a burglar all his career and it is the only thing that he knows. So when he is offered $5000 to break into an empty flat and steal a leather box he plans to partake of some easy money. However, Bernie should know by now that there is no such thing as a free meal and when the police walk in on him he decides to play it cool. This would have worked had there not been a dead body in the next room! After evading the police Bernie must hide away somewhere and work out a way to prove his innocence, but how can a renowned burglar ever get a fair judgement?
This book is the first in a series of adventures that sees Bernie becoming involved in a variety of scrapes and acts as a great introduction to a charming and funny character. It is the character of Bernie that is the main draw of these books as he is brilliantly realised by Lawrence Block. We learn in Burglars Cant Be Choosers that the life of a thief can be a lonely one. However, the fact that you get to become involved in adrenaline fuelled cons makes up for this. The idea of the robberies themselves are fun but put a character from this world into a detective novel and you are on to a winner. Bernie is a reluctant sleuth that only becomes involved because it is in his best interests. He is a truly funny character and his interaction with other people in the book feels very real.
The story itself is good, but generic. I have read another adventure with Bernie in called The Burglar Who Quoted Kipling and essentially the plots were identical with the burglar stumbling across a dead body. If this happens in other books in the series I may start to disbelieve them as it seems unlikely to be a regular occurrence. Choosers is a stronger story than Kipling because it is the first. This means that by its very nature it acts as an introduction and is more in-depth. As the reader is new to Bernie and his way of life Block paints it in a very intriguing way and lets you get to know him rather than just his negative points.
The major factor in Kipling which this title does not is a strong character for Bernie to have as a sidekick. Here we are given a mysterious woman who soon falls into Bernies arms; I much prefer Carolyn his later lesbian sidekick as they are able to have a flirty relationship without it dominating the plot. Block is very adept at creating characters that spark off Bernie and help to explain why he does certain things e.g. they will ask him how he plans to break into a house. There are reoccurring police officers who appear in his books and are usually corrupt. I like these officers because although they take money off Bernie to ignore his misdemeanours they will only go so far.
There is an issue with this book in that some people might find it feels a bit dated in the descriptions of the lifestyles and how certain characters act. This is because this book was written in 1970s New York and that is an era that certainly does not exist anymore. However, I did not find this was too big an issue because the character of Bernie seems to transcend the era as he is a gentleman that would be more at home in somewhere like Victorian London. When Bernie is given a situation and a character to bounce off he is a joy to read about. Burglars Cant Be Choosers has these in abundance.
I would recommend this book to crime fans that are looking for something a little lighter and different than recent crime noir. The books are short and the stories rattle along at a decent pace and this is certainly the case here. Block manages to infuse the plot with a naïve charm and the character of Bernie makes for effortless reading pleasure. Arguably for some the titles may be slightly too simple and a little dated, but if you are looking for a quick and entertaining read you could do a lot worse than spending the day with a burglar named Bernie.
Author: Lawrence Block
Price: amazon uk - £4.99
When the mysterious pear-shaped man with a l ot of uncomfortably accurate information about Bernie and hi s career offers him five big ones to liberate a blue leather box from an East Side apartment, a lack of finance forces h im to take up the offer. '