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The Burglar on the Prowl


The Burglar on the Prowl

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There was a point last year where people who knew me would cross
the street when they saw me coming because they were afraid I would
start talking about SMALL TOWN by Lawrence Block yet again. I
accordingly viewed Block's follow-up, THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL,
with at least some mild trepidation. How was he going to follow
SMALL TOWN? How could he? Actually, I wasn't all too worried about
the latter issue. Block has been writing, and writing well, for
decades now, with no appreciable hint of a slowdown. It is a
tribute to his literary prolificacy and a sad comment upon our
general literacy to note that Block has by himself written more
novels, total, than most people own, regardless of who wrote them.
So does THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL on the prowl match, or even
perhaps surpass, SMALL TOWN? No. Is it, on its own terms, a
resoundingly well-written novel, worth losing a night's sleep over?
Yes, most resoundingly, yes.

THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL marks the return of Bernie Rhodenbarr.
Rhodenbarr is the owner, proprietor, and sole employee of a used
bookstore in Manhattan --- as Bernie would put it, a whole lot
smaller than The Strand. That's his day job. He is, on occasion, a
burglar by night. He is a good bookstore proprietor, and a master
burglar. The voice of THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL is Rhodenbarr's, and
while the story is not lighthearted, it has a light touch. One gets
the feeling that everything will turn out okay; you're just not
sure how.

THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL explores some of the themes that Block
explored in SMALL TOWN, the primary one being that New York City,
or at least the Manhattan portion, is a small town, with the
degrees of separation between individuals being very few if not
nonexistent. It begins with Rhodenbarr's friend Marty Gilmartin
asking Rhodenbarr to perform a burglary not for lucre, but for
malice. Crandall Mapes has aroused Gilmartin's ire, and Gilmartin
wants the cad taken down a peg or two. Rhodenbarr agrees, checks
the place out, and begins making arrangements to do the job the
following Friday.

In the meantime, Rhodenbarr has the jones and can't resist pulling
off another job in the interim. Before that night is over, he has
been present during a rape --- an attack which he is powerless to
prevent --- and is accused of being involved in another burglary
and a double murder in the same neighborhood. Rhodenbarr has a hard
time establishing an alibi. He can't say that he didn't commit the
burglary/murder because he was busy committing another burglary
elsewhere, and besides, his image has been captured on a number of
surveillance cameras in the area (note to Bernie: there is no right
to privacy in a public place). Now Rhodenbarr has attracted the
attention of the police; he has also attracted the attention of the
real burglars, who think that he has somehow acquired what they
were after.

In fact, Rhodenbarr has multiple problems. He needs to dodge the
real burglars/murderers and the police; he feels very motivated to
do something, anything, to the rapist who committed the dastardly
act right in front of him; he'd like to help the victim out; and,
oh yeah, there's that burglary for Gilmartin that he has to commit
on Friday. Now...would you believe me if I told you that it all
ties in together, and that the common denominator is not Bernie
Rhodenbarr? And that it ties together plausibly? I wouldn't believe
it either, but it does. And all in one setting.

Block has been at this for awhile, and he goes after the readers
who say to themselves, "I'm going to read just one more chapter and
then stop." No, Block's chapters are like literary M & Ms. You
start with one, and then have another, then another, and you're not
going to stop until the bowl is empty and the book is done.

Is THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL perfect? No. Block made the ending just
a little more complicated than it really needed to be --- I really
didn't need three hypotheses when just the actual solution would
have been fine --- but the first 314 pages, and the last four, of
this 320 page book were so superbly written that it seems like a
pissant's quibble to even bring it up. So I won't.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

The Burglar on the Prowl
by Lawrence Block

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060198303
  • ISBN-13: 9780060198305