RogerBW's Blog

The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, Lawrence Block 04 September 2014

Fourth mystery book about Bernard Rhodenbarr, professional burglar in 1970s New York.

There's another slight change to the formula, as this time Bernie doesn't stumble on a corpse at the scene of his burglary: it turns up later, as does another one, and he's the only plausible connection between them. Fortunately the cops don't know that.

As last time, there's a terribly expensive item involved in the burglary, in this case a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, for which the history given seems to be accurate. (OK, in 1980 when this was published it would have been harder for a reader to check.) The only thing that really threw me into the specific period, though, was a passing mention of Freddie Laker's Skytrain service: otherwise it could be happening more or less any time in the post-skyscraper, pre-compact-disc era.

With Bernie out of the immediate frame, there's less of a pressure to solve the case, and it eventually takes a third party to get Bernie to take it on – this even after a friend of long standing (who could have been an interesting recurring character) has been murdered. Perhaps for this reason, there's much less tension than in the previous books of this series, and this is an unfortunate omission.

The actual mystery is disappointing, relying rather more on coincidence than I find acceptable; even Bernie ends up planting rather more evidence than usual to make it look plausible to the cops. While some of the solution is obvious I didn't work out the whole thing, and frankly on the basis of what's presented here I'll be somewhat surprised if anyone does.

As always with this series, don't read them too close together. The formula is only just beneath the skin.

Followed by The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 09:40pm on 04 September 2014

    Ah the Laker Skytrain. Even if it hadn't been destroyed by rivals finanicially, it couldn't have lasted. The "walk on like a train" system would be completely impossible in today's security environment. It just shows what airline security used to be that it was ever possible.

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