Bernie Rhodenbarr has gone legit almost as the new owner of a used bookstore in New York's Greenwich Village. Of course, dusty old tomes don't always turn a profit, so to make ends meet, Bernie's forced, on occasion, to indulge in his previous occupation: burglary. Besides which, he likes it.
Now a collector is offering Bernie an opportunity to combine his twin passions by stealing a very rare and very bad book-length poem from a rich man's library.
The heist goes off without a hitch. The delivery of the ill-gotten volume, however, is a different story. Drugged by the client's female go-between, Bernie wakes up in her apartment to find the book gone, the lady dead, a smoking gun in his hand, and the cops at the door. And suddenly he's got to extricate himself from a rather sticky real-life murder mystery and find a killer before he's booked for Murder One.
About 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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Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, The
I suppose he must have been in his early twenties. It was hard to be sure of his age because there was so little of his face available for study. His redbrown beard began just below his eyes, which in turn lurked behind thick-lensed horn-rims. He wore a khaki army shirt, unbuttoned, and beneath it his T-shirt advertised the year's fashionable beer, a South Dakota brand reputedly brewed with organic water. His pants were brown corduroy, his running shoes blue with a gold stripe. He was toting a Braniff Airlines flight bag in one illmanicured hand and the Everyman's Library edition of The Poems of William Cowper in the other.
He set the book down next to the cash register, reached into a pocket, found two quarters, and placed them on the counter alongside the book.
"Ah, poor Cowper," I said, picking up the book. Its binding was shaky, which was why it had found its way to my bargain table. "My favorite's 'The Retired Cat.' I'm pretty sure it's in this edition." He shifted his weight from foot to foot while I scanned the table of contents. "Here it is. Page one-fifty. You know the poem?"
"I don't think so."
"You'll love it. The bargain books are forty cents or three for a dollar, which is even more of a bargain. You just want the one?"
"That's right." He pushed the two quarters an inch or so closer to me. "Just the one."
"Fine," I said. I looked at his face. All I could really see was his brow, and it looked untroubled, and I would have to do something about that. "Forty cents for the Cowper, and three cents for the Governor in Albany, mustn't forget him, and what does that come to?" I leaned over the counter and dazzled him with my pearly-whites. "I make it thirty-two dollars and seventy cents," I said.
"That copy of Byron. Full morocco, marbled endpapers, and I believe it's marked fifteen dollars. The Wallace Stevens is a first edition and it's a bargain at twelve. The novel you took was only three dollars or so, and I suppose you just wanted to read it because you couldn't get anything much reselling it."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
I moved out from behind the counter, positioning myself between him and the door. He didn't look as though he intended to sprint but he was wearing running shoes and you never can tell. Thieves are an unpredictable lot.
"In the flight bag," I said. "I assume you'll want to pay for what you took."
"This?" He looked down at the flight bag as if astonished to find it dangling from his fingers. "This is just my gym stuff. You know -- sweat socks, a towel, like that."
"Suppose you open it."
Perspiration was beading on his forehead but he was trying to tough it out. "You can't make me," he said. "You've got no authority."
"I can call a policeman. He can't make you open it, either, but he can walk you over to the station house and book you, and then he can open it, and do you really want that to happen? Open the bag."
He opened the bag. It contained sweat socks, a towel, a pair of lemon-yellow gym shorts, and the three books I had mentioned along with a nice clean first edition of Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus, complete with dust wrapper. It was marked $17.50, which seemed a teensy bit high.
"I didn't get that here," he said.
"You have a bill of sale for it?"
"No, but -- "
I scribbled briefly, then gave him another smile.
"Let's call it fifty dollars even," I said, "and let's have it."
"You're charging me for the Steinbeck?"
"But I had it with me when I came in."
"Fifty dollars," I said.
"Look, I don't want to buy these books." He rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Oh God, why did I have to come in here in the first place? Look, I don't want any trouble."
"Neither do I."
"And the last thing I want is to buy anything. Look, keep the books, keep the Steinbeck too, the hell with it. Just let me get out of here, huh?"
"I think you should buy the books."
"I don't have the money. I got fifty cents. Look, keep the fifty cents too, okay? Keep the shorts and the towel, keep the sweat socks, okay? Just let me get the hell out of here, okay?"
"You don't have any money?"
"No, nothing. Just the fifty cents. Look -- "
"Let's see your wallet."
"What are you -- I don't have a wallet."
"Right hip pocket. Take it out and hand it to me."
"I don't believe this is happening."
I snapped my fingers. "The wallet."
It was a nice enough black pinseal billfold, complete with the telltale outline of a rolled condom to recall my own lost adolescence. There was almost a hundred dollars in the currency compartment. I counted out fifty dollars in fives and tens, replaced the rest, and returned the wallet to its owner.
"That's my money," he said.
"You just bought books with it," I told him. "Want a receipt?"
"I don't even want the books, dammit." His eyes were watering behind the thick glasses. "What am I going to do with them, anyway?"
"I suppose reading them is out. What did you plan to do with them originally?"
He stared at his track shoes. "I was going to sell them."
"I don't know. Some store."
"How much were you going to get for them?"
"I don't know. Fifteen, twenty dollars."
"You'd wind up taking ten."
"I suppose so."
"Fine," I said. I peeled off one of his tens and pressed it into his palm. "Sell them to me."Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, The. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first one with the bookstore and with Carolyn. It's a lot of fun!
I like the Burglar series a lot: the books are fun, and burglar Bernie is a very nice man, albeit with this one small fault of loving being a burglar, and a bit silly too: we see the problems coming from way off, he just stumbles along until he finds himself in such a pickle that he really has to start thinking. Perfect books for recovering after a bad day at the office. ¿
I read this in the 1980s and picked up this copy for nostalgia's sake and because it had been shuffled around on the English department's "free to a good home" bookcase for over a year. It's very much a book of its time: the wonders of the Polaroid camera! the delight of having to find a payphone when you're not home to make a call! A fun read, though this time I found myself a little irritated with Block's method of keeping some of Bernie's activities secret: "I went into the office. Twenty minutes later, I left, whistling." That's part of the problem with a first-person narrator, but it seemed a little ham-handed here. It was fun to reread Bernie, but I'm not keeping the book; maybe it can be shuffled around on the shelves of a library book sale for a while.
I don't think that I have read this one before, but I'm glad that I caught up with it now. It is somewhat more convoluted than some of the others. I often find it worth a giggle or two to see how far communications and inflation have come since the book was written. The story involves double crossing, double dealing, some godawful poetry, and a mink coat.
"I don't like sh<_>it, I don't go outside." "White, red-headed b<_>itch reminded me of Annie. She stood after my state of mind, so yeah she understands me." "Bodies lying in the streets. Eh. Mama taught me how to not be like the bodies lying and them pigs ridin' in 'em. I'm a target so it's hard to even eye me in 'em. And if they ain't dying for me. You know I ain't ridin' with 'em."
"I might be on the side of the angels but don't think for a da<->mn second I'm one of them." "If you don't screw it up once how will you grow stronger." "If time can fly, why doesn't days fu<->ck<->ing end?" "It isn't a story worth telling if there aren't any dragons." "Sorry, I'm loading a sarcastic comment." "I'm not arguing I'm just proving that I'm right."
~God gave us dreams A size too big so that we can grow into them. ~im proud of my heart. Its been stabbed, played, cheated and burned and broken. But somehow still works. ~ guys have no idea how long something they said can stay in a girls mind. ~ i love u with all my butt i wou say heart but my butts bigger. ~ real men never stop showing a girl how much she means to him. ~ boys never realize how much one little thing can hurt a girl. ~ yes im smilig but its not because of you anymore. ~ I MISS THE TIME WHEN I ACTULLY MENT SOMETHING TO YOU. ~ each night i put my head to my pillow. I try to tell myself that im strong because ive gone on more day without you. ~ For every broken heart there is someone hos waiting to fix it. ~ IT HURTS WHEN THE PERSON WHO MADE YOU FEEL SPECIAL YESTERDAY KES YOU FEEL SO UNWANTED TODAY. ~ i still repeat the things you said to me in my head. ~ dont fu<_>ck with my feelings just because your unsure about yours. ~ i love you like a fat kid loves cake.~ 7 billion people in the world but my heart choose you. ~ i still love you but you dont seem to care~ when we first met i honestly never thought that you wou mean so much to me. ~ i know that i should let go but i just cant. ~ i love you for all tht you are all that you have been and all that you are yet to be. ~