The Burglar in the Library (Bernie Rhodenbarr Series #8)

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Bookseller and New-Yorker-to-the-bone, Bernie Rhodenbarr rarely ventures out of Manhattan, but he's excited about the romantic getaway he has planned for himself and current lady love Lettice at the Cuttleford House, a remote upstate b&b. Unfortunately, Lettice has a prior engagement—she's getting married . . . and not to Bernie—so he decides to take best buddy Carolyn instead. A restful respite from the big city's bustle would be too good to waste. Besides, there's a very valuable first edition shelved in ...

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The Burglar in the Library (Bernie Rhodenbarr Series #8)

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Bookseller and New-Yorker-to-the-bone, Bernie Rhodenbarr rarely ventures out of Manhattan, but he's excited about the romantic getaway he has planned for himself and current lady love Lettice at the Cuttleford House, a remote upstate b&b. Unfortunately, Lettice has a prior engagement—she's getting married . . . and not to Bernie—so he decides to take best buddy Carolyn instead. A restful respite from the big city's bustle would be too good to waste. Besides, there's a very valuable first edition shelved in the Cuttleford's library that Bernie's just itching to get his hands on. Did we neglect to mention that Bernie's a burglar?

But first he's got to get around a very dead body on the library floor. The plot's thickened by an isolating snowstorm, downed phone lines, the surprise arrival of Lettice and her reprehensible new hubby, and a steadily increasing corpse count. And it's Bernie who'll have to figure out whodunit . . . or die.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bernie Rhodenbarr, bookseller and burglar (The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, etc.), is one of Block's most stylish creations, and this new outing (there has been a reissue or two in recent years) is cause for rejoicing. This time, Bernie is off with pal Carolyn for a weekend at a pseudo-English manor in the wilds of New England. Bernie hasn't the usual salacious aims in mindCarolyn is a lesbian, after all, and the woman Bernie had wanted to take has just up and married someone elsebut there is a rare book he lusts for. Cuttleford House happens to contain an inscribed Raymond Chandler first edition. A huge snowstorm traps everyone at the manor and soon, as happens in the kind of Agatha Christie mysteries Block delights in poking fun at, people start dying mysteriously, one by one. The phone lines are cut; a rope bridge across the creek that is their only egress is gone; and residents are trapped with a murderer, or maybe more than one. It's delightful, lighthearted fun in which keen characterizations, effortlessly loopy dialogue and a narrative style like, well, clotted cream, combine for a rare treat. Bernie gets to say "I suppose you're wondering why I summoned you all here," as he lays out the full deviousness for the survivors. The tale is more ingenious than believable, but belief is not what the Burglar stories are all about. Pure pleasure is. (July)
Library Journal
Book thief Bernie Rhodenbarr has his work cut out for him when, in the wake of a paralyzing winter storm, a body is discovered in the library of a bed-and-breakfast.
Kirkus Reviews
All princely burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr wanted was to steal off to the Berkshires for a romantic weekend with Lettice Runcible at the oh-so-English Cuttleford House, then to go home with a rumored Cuttleford book—a copy of The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler inscribed to Dashiell Hammett—that wasn't his. But things don't exactly work out that way. First off, Lettice announces that she can't go because she's getting married that weekend, and when Bernie handsomely adapts by bringing his platonic chum Carolyn Kaiser along instead, who should complete the fanciful assortment of guests at Cuttleford House but Lettice and her bridegroom? As for the library that Bernie hopes to plunder, it's got more foot traffic than the Library of Congress, even before the discovery of a guest's cooling corpse makes it the center of attention. The sedate country-house setting, the general jollity (the grue is leavened by a precocious ten-year- old and the casual slaughters of several victims who barely have names, much less faces), and, above all, the body-in-the-library scream Agatha Christie, but the killer's model seems to be Christie's darkest novel: And Then There Were None. The cut phone lines, the sabotaged snowblower, the ruined bridge to the outside world—all these retro trappings climax in a denouement (in the library, naturally) that must be one of the most deliriously overextended in the history of the genre.

Bernie, evidently recovered from his most recent folly (The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, 1995), has a fine time mocking the conventions of Christie's bygone age. Fans who don't insist on plotting as tight as Christie's will enjoy themselves just as much as if it were her.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060872878
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/27/2007
  • Series: Bernie Rhodenbarr Series , #8
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 465,075
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.

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First Chapter

The Burglar in the Library

Chapter One

At three in the afternoon on the first Thursday in March, I got Barnegat Books settled in for the weekend. I dragged my table of bargain books inside, closed the door, and turned the cardboard sign in the window from Open to Closed. I ran the cash-register tape—the work of a moment, alas—and took the checks to my desk in the back room, where I filled out a deposit slip and prepared a mail deposit. I returned with a box a little over a foot in length. It was shaped like a little house in a child's drawing, peaked roof and all, with a handle where the chimney ought to be. I opened the hinged top, set it on the floor, and looked around for Raffles.

He was in the window, treating himself to a few rays. I called his name, which might have worked if he'd been a dog, but he's not and it didn't. Raffles is a cat, a declawed unmanned tailless gray tabby, and if he even knows his name he's not letting on. True to form, he didn't stir at the sound of my voice, but lay motionless in what little sunlight there was.

So I crumpled a sheet of paper, and that worked. We have a training ritual that involves my hurling paper balls for him to run down and kill. It probably looks like a game to the casual observer, but it's serious business, designed to sharpen his mousing skills. I guess it's working; I stopped finding gnawed book spines and suspicious organic matter on my shelves the day he moved in.

I threw the ball of paper and he was off and running. He had it before it stopped rolling, sank the memory of his claws deep into it, took it in his mouth, shook it fiercely to and fro, and left itfor dead.

A dog would have brought it back so I could throw it again. A cat wouldn't dream of it. "Good job," I said, and crumpled a fresh sheet, and he made another clean kill. I congratulated him again, prepared a third paper ball, and tossed it gently into the open cat carrier.

He looked at it. Then he looked at me, and then he looked at the floor.

A few minutes later there was a knock on my door. "We're closed," I called out without looking. My eyes were on Raffles, who had removed himself to an open spot in the Philosophy & Religion section, on the same high shelf with the bust of Immanuel Kant.

The knock was repeated, and so was my response. "Closed for the weekend!" I sang out. "Sorry!"

"Bernie, open the door."

So I looked, and of course it was Carolyn, looking larger than life in a down-filled parka. There was a suitcase at her feet and a frown on her brow. I let her in and she blew on her hands and rubbed them together. "I thought you'd be ready by now," she said. "We've got a train to catch, remember?"

"It's Raffles," I said.

"What about him?"

"He won't get in the cat carrier."

She looked at me, then at the cat carrier, then bent over to retrieve two paper balls from it.

"I thought maybe I could get him to jump in after them," I said.

"You thought that, huh?"

"Well, it was just an idea," I said.

"You've had better ones, Bern. Where'd he go?"

"He's sitting up there with the father of the categorical imperative," I said. "Which figures, because it's imperative that he get in the cat carrier, and he's categorically opposed to it. I don't know, Carolyn, maybe it's a mistake to take him. We're only going to be gone three nights. If I put out plenty of food and water for him, and leave the radio on to keep him company . . ."

She gave me a look, shook her head, sighed, and clapped her hands fiercely together, calling the cat's name in a loud voice. Raffles sprang down from his perch and flattened himself against the floor. If he'd lowered his center of gravity one more inch he'd have been in the basement.

She bent over, picked him up, and put him in the carrier. "Now you stay there," she told him, in a tone that brooked no argument, and snapped the lid shut to give him no choice in the matter. "You can't con them into it," she explained. "You have to get physical. Ready, Bern?"

"I guess so."

"I hope that coat's warm enough. The temperature must have dropped twenty degrees since lunch. And the forecast's calling for snow north of the city."

"It'll warm up," I said.

"You think so?"

"It's March already. I know the groundhog saw his shadow, but the extra six weeks of winter are almost up. Even if we do get a little snow, it won't stick around long." I took my suitcase in one hand and Raffles's carrier in the other and let Carolyn hold the door for me. Outside, I went through what you have to go through to close up a store in New York, hauling the steel gate across, fastening innumerable padlocks. These chores are best performed barehanded, and by the time I was done my fingers were numb.

"It's cold, all right," I admitted. "But we'll be cozy at Cuttleford House. Snow on the roof, a fire on the hearth—"

"Kippers for breakfast. Afternoon tea with cream and clotted scones." She frowned. "Is that right, Bern? Or should it be the other way around?"

"No, it's right. Kippers for breakfast, scones for tea."

"I know that part's right," she said. "It's just a question of which is supposed to be clotted, the cream or the scones, and I'm pretty sure it's the cream. 'Scones and clotted cream.' Yeah, that sounds better."

"Either one sounds good about now."

"And all those other great English dishes. Bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, toad-in-the-hole. What exactly is toad-in-the-hole, Bern, do you happen to know?"

The Burglar in the Library. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

Good evening, sleuths, and welcome to the Live Events Auditorium. Tonight we are honored to welcome Lawrence Block, master of mystery, sire of suspense. Lawrence is to discuss his 40-plus books in print, most notably THE BURGLAR IN THE LIBRARY, his most recent Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery. Enjoy the chat.

Ben G. from Miami Beach: Lawrence, I love your novels. Whose idea was it to use Paul Kavanagh as a pseudonym? Yours or the publishers?

Lawrence Block: My idea. The first book under that pen name, SUCH MEN ARE DANGEROUS, had Kavanagh as the narrator, and I used it as a pen name as well. There are some ex-spooks around who insist the book was by Paul Kavanagh, who was an ex-CIA guy. It's evidently become legend in certain quarters.

Lisa from New York: Do you ever see doing a final Matthew Scudder novel? Killing him off, perhaps?

Lawrence Block: I wouldn't do that.

Freddie from CA: Any plans on anyone making movies of the Matthew Scudder books or the Burglar books?

Lawrence Block: Not at the moment. A couple of tentative options are possible, but I'm not holding my breath.

Matthew from L.A., California: Do you see a lot of yourself in Bernie Rhodenbarr?

Lawrence Block: Oh, a fair amount. We have the same level of honesty.

George King from Maine: I love your Burglar books, but I also like your more horror-based stuff like ARIEL and NOT COMIN' HOME TO YOU. Any other nonseries suspense novels in the works?

Lawrence Block: Yes, a book called HIT MAN, coming in February from Morrow. About a hit man, predictably enough.

Bill from NYC: Do you find it much easier to write short stories? I love BURGLAR IN THE LIBRARY, by the way, but want another collection too!

Lawrence Block: I wouldn't say short stories are easier. They are shorter, obviously, and I find them a great change of pace from the trench warfare of novel writing. I spent about eight months last year writing short stuff, so it probably won't be too long before I have another collection ready.

Dan J. from Philadelphia: I read a book of yours called WRITING THE NOVEL. Do you ever teach courses on writing?

Lawrence Block: Used to. Not any more, although I sometimes speak at writers' conferences, and will be at the Harriette Austin conference in Athens, GA, this weekend.

Bill from NYC: Do you have a favorite book that you've written?

Lawrence Block: Not really. A lot of people like WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES, which (finally!) is back in paperback this month from Avon. But I don't think much in terms of favorites, and tend to like the most recent books the best, perhaps because I'm closer to them in time.

Debbie from New York: How many hours a day do you write? You seem to put out so many books. I haven't read your new one yet, but I can't wait to.

Lawrence Block: It varies. When I work, it's pretty much all I do. But I take a lot of time off between books.

Sara from Newton, IA: I thought that Matt Scudder was more interesting when he was drinking. Any plans for him to start drinking again?

Lawrence Block: You never know.

Larry from Montreal: Any book tours in the works? Ever come up to Canada? Where will you be appearing?

Lawrence Block: I'll be touring July 17 to 27, going to Georgia and California. My schedule's posted on various boards, like incl.rec.arts.mystery.

Rory from Florida: Hey, Lawrence, I have four questions for you:

1) I am planning to write a book of commentaries (I am going into the eighth grade at the end of August and I figured that December would be the perfect time to start). When I start writing this book, should I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do?

2) How do you overcome writer's block?

3) How much time do you spend writing?

4) How do you put life into your characters? Do you use characters sheets? Do you watch people's personalities and write down what you see? How do you do it?

Lawrence Block: Just go ahead and do it.

Larry from Montreal: Do you ever get tired of writing series books and just want to take a break from Scudder and Rhodenbarr for a while?

Lawrence Block: Oh, sure. I have a low boredom threshold, which may explain why I write so many different kinds of books.

Dan J. from Philadelphia: You are one of my favorite authors of all time! What books do you have in the works besides HIT MAN?

Lawrence Block: There's a new Evan Tanner novel just written. The probable title is SOMEWHERE EAST OF SUEZ. The probable pub date is September '98.

Lisa from NYC: On a personal note, how are your daughters, Amy, Jill, and Alison?

Lawrence Block: They're fine, Lisa. How are you?

Matt from San Francisco: I've heard of a book of yours called DEATH PULLS A DOUBLE CROSS but have never found it. What's it about? Is it one of your series books?

Lawrence Block: It's an early book, and was reissued recently in paperback by Carroll & Graf. The title now is COWARD'S KISS, which was the original title before some genius picked DEATH PULLS A DOUBLE CROSS.

Matt from San Francisco: If there was one of your series characters that was most like yourself, which one would it be? Tanner, Haig, Rhodenbarr, or Scudder?

Lawrence Block: Beats me.

Lisa F. from Dallas: Lawrence, I've listened to lots of your books on audio. Do you ever have any say in who performs them or how they're edited?

Lawrence Block: Well, on the abridged editions of the Burglar books, I do the narration myself. But other than that, no, I don't.

Jayson from Queens: What would it be like if you and your characters went out for dinner?

Lawrence Block: Schizophrenic.

Lisa F. from Dallas: Do you plan all your stories out ahead of time or kind of let them create themselves as you write them?

Lawrence Block: It's like my life. I make it up as I go along, and keep surprising myself.

Nathan from NYC: What did you think of the movie of EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE? (I thought it was pretty bad, myself.)

Lawrence Block: I thought Bridges and Garcia gave fine performances, but I didn't think much of the film.

Jill M. from St. Louis: Do you enjoy when fans approach you to tell you how much they enjoy your work, or do you like to be left alone?

Lawrence Block: I like to hear it, but I don't want intrusions on my private life. So I try to make myself available via signings and appearances, at which time I welcome interaction with readers.

Jason from Troy, NY: I've read some of your short stories in some horror anthologies. Do you ever consider what you write to be horror?

Lawrence Block: I don't think that much in categorical terms. I know a lot of my work turns up in horror anthologies, and that's fine with me, but I don't know how any of it should be categorized.

Dan from New Brunswick, NJ: What other great mystery writers do you personally recommend (other than yourself, of course). Love the new book, by the way. Keep 'em coming.

Lawrence Block: Well, I don't like to comment on other writers, but I will say that Donald E. Westlake's new novel, THE AX, is terrific.

Davis Fast from Kansas City: What do you think of online interviews? Have you ever done this before?

Lawrence Block: I don't usually enjoy them, but this is sort of fun.

Kate Roth from Oregon: How do you feel about your Chip Harrison novels finally being rereleased under your own name?

Lawrence Block: Well, it was my choice, so I feel fine about it.

Kate Roth from Oregon: I love the newsletter you do for your fans! How much time does that take for you? It's so great that you keep your fans informed.

Lawrence Block: Thanks. It takes a fair amount of time -- and money! -- but I enjoy doing it. It comes out once or twice a year, and anybody who wants to get on the list for it can email me at with your name and snail-mail address. It's free, you know, and worth every penny.

Jill from NYC: Anybody else in your family ever try their hand at writing?

Lawrence Block: Nope. One of my daughters seemed like a possible, but she decided she'd rather be a lawyer. Go figure....

Marcus from NYC: How has the publishing world changed since you began writing? Is it still fair to you?

Lawrence Block: I think it's gotten worse. On the other hand, I'm doing better than I was 40 years ago, so I'm not going to complain about it.

Jill from NYC: Ever consider living anywhere else besides New York City? Not that we want to lose you, but I'm curious if you ever get tired of the city.

Lawrence Block: No, this is home. I love Ireland and hope to spend substantial periods of time there, but I'm too deeply attached to NYC to flourish anywhere else. And I don't get tired of it because we travel so much.

Dave from Atlanta: You've done quite a bit of traveling -- do you think Scudder is likely to have a case outside NYC?

Lawrence Block: I doubt it. He gets to Ohio in EVEN THE WICKED, but only briefly. But in THE BURGLAR IN THE LIBRARY, Bernie Rhodenbarr leaves the city for a whole book. It worked out fine.

Jack from Florida: Tell us more about HIT MAN.

Lawrence Block: I wrote several short stories about a sort of Urban Lonely Guy of assassins, his name being Keller. Most of them appeared in Playboy. And it became clear to me that what I was doing was writing a novel on the installment plan. I finished it, and it's HIT MAN.

James H. from Rhode Island: I hope this isn't too stupid a question, but do people ever get you confused with Robert Bloch because of the name?

Lawrence Block: Well, it's easier to tell us apart these days, because Bob Bloch died a couple of years ago. He was a sweet man and a fine writer. And yes, every once in a while someone would come up to me and say he liked my work, but I'd really hit my peak with PSYCHO.

Nancy from Tallahassee: Lawrence -- I love all of your books but have a particular passion for Matt S. I like him so much better now that he is sober. Now that Matthew has a computer, do you think he will start surfing the net?

Lawrence Block: I have a feeling TJ's going to monopolize the computer. I can't see Matt surfing, somehow.

Robyn from PA: Have you ever considered having Matthew Scudder as a TV series?

Lawrence Block: It's possible, but no plans at present.

Debbie from L.A.: Do you consider yourself to be very computer-savvy? Any chance of you getting your own Web site?

Lawrence Block: Not terribly. I have an email account but don't do much more with the Internet than that. Tangled Web runs my newsletter and other stuff, but I'm not really involved in it.

George from San Francisco: Do you ever do any type of research for any of your books, or do you kind of just wing it?

Lawrence Block: I probably do a little less than meets the eye.

George from San Francisco: Just a comment. I think your books are incredibly funny. It's rare to find someone who writes mystery with such a wicked sense of humor. Ever consider doing a purely satiric novel?

Lawrence Block: Funny? You think those books are funny?

Jason from Troy, NY: I read your story "A Bad Night for Burglars" here on the bn web site recently. Great story. Any new stories coming out we can watch for?

Lawrence Block: Yes, quite a few. In November and February issues of Playboy and various future issues of Ellery Queen and Mary Higgins Clark magazines, and several new anthologies -- NAL's THE BEST OF THE BEST, THE PLOT THICKENS, TILL DEATH DO US PART, and HOT BLOOD 10. And others I'm not remembering just now.

Jacj from Florida: Are any of your characters based on a single individual you have known, or are they all fictional composites?

Lawrence Block: They're essentially fictional syntheses. Some are drawn from life to a degree. TJ came out of a chance meeting with a kid in Times Square, and the lawyer Ray Gruliow is clearly patterned after the late William Kunstler.

Matthew from L.A.: Any new nonfiction books on writing coming soon from you? I think those books are great. Loved TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT.

Lawrence Block: If I ever find time to do it, I'm going to redo a book called WRITE FOR YOUR LIFE and get it back in print.

Dave from Atlanta: In your last Matt Scudder book, EVEN THE WICKED, you use Monica to make a comment on guys that aren't married. Does this indicate that Scudder and Elaine might change their relationship?

Lawrence Block: I'm not sure what you mean here.

Amy G. from Atlanta: What women writers do you admire? Do women create good mystery? Or should a distinction not be drawn?

Lawrence Block: I admire them all.

Nancy from Tallahassee: LB, The photograph of you on the cover of EVEN THE WICKED (which I loved) is kind of a different look for you. It's sort of a bon vivant look, don't you think? Is there a deep, hidden meaning to the change?

Lawrence Block: There's never a meaning to anything I do. Glad you like the photo.

Robyn from PA: Any chance that Scudder might marry again?

Lawrence Block: He and Elaine got married at the end of A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN.

Dave from Atlanta: Do you think that Matt and Elaine will stay together and perhaps marry?

Lawrence Block: Well, they've been married since the end of A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN, and they seem very happy. But you never know what'll happen next.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight Lawrence Block! And thank you to all who participated. Mr. Block, any remarks before we go?

Lawrence Block: This was more fun that I thought it would be, I'll tell you that. Thanks for having me, and thanks to everybody out there for the provocative questions. And for those of you in the New York area, please come to Bryant Park (Sixth Ave between 40th and 42nd Streets) on Wednesday, July 30, at 6pm. We're dedicating a bench for Bernie Rhodenbarr, and it's party time!

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2000

    A Book Lover's Must!

    If you love books...and would go to zany, crazy and hilarious means to obtain them -- this book is for you. Block's love of books and great sense of humor come through brilliantly in this mystery.

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