The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons (Review)

August 12, 2014

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Late late year I (along with several others) was contacted by the publicist for my favorite author, Lawrence Block.  Would I like to receive an Advance Review Copy of his forthcoming book.  Absolutely!  I’d read the book and then write a review soon after.

Life got in the way, as it tends to do.  Winter gave way to spring and then summer, and no review.  By that point, I had forgotten some of the key points of a book I had throughly enjoyed.  So I did the only logical thing – I read the book again.

Over the years, Block has often remarked that fans of Bernie Rhodenbarr are the most, er, persistent in wanting to know when the next Burglar book is coming out.  I try not to harass the man, but I’ll admit that I’m one of the Rabid Rhodenbarr Rooters.  I enjoy many of Block’s series character, but Bernie is far and away my favorite.  The Bernie books are lighthearted, even when the bodies hit the floor.  This book hit the (virtual) shelves in record time, thanks to Block self-publishing the book.

The main characters return in The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons.  Carrying the bulk of the load are Bernie and his expository device best friend, Carolyn.  Policeman Ray plays a supporting role, as usual.  Spoons is a departure from previous books in that Bernie never finds himself under the investigatory glare of Ray.  Ray actually leans on Bernie for his professional advice in an attempt to solve a murder.  At the time, Bernie is actually engaged in a series of thefts for hire, but we don’t have to tell Ray about that.

True to form, Bernie’s love life also takes some twists and turns.  The poor guy never seems to be in a relationship very long, but not for lack of trying.  I’m sure this time he’ll end up in a long-term relationship, right?

A key aspect of any good mystery is that the author is able to hide the solution from the reader until the end, while still playing fair.  That is, the author will leave a trail of crumbs that make it technically possible to piece things together, given the right mindset – but not enough of a trail to make it easy.  Spoons succeeds in this regard.  I was following each independent thread, knowing that they would come together at the end, but unable to piece it together. Then Bernie lays out the facts at the end, and it all makes perfect sense.

Another benefit of a Lawrence Block book is that you will learn something while reading his books.  In the case of Spoons, you learn about U.S. history.  I have a solid base of knowledge of our nation’s history, but I learned quite a lot.  I’m not usually the type to sit down and read a history book, but I do enjoy a spoonful of learning in the midst of a fiction book.

Juneau Lock?  Oh, I think you will.

You can buy the paperback version for $12.90 or the Kindle version for $4.99.  If you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited, you can download it for free.



Why Is The Book Always Better Than The Movie?

June 20, 2012

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It’s a common scene – you’ll come out of a movie and someone will say “It was OK, but I liked the book better.”  It’s far less common to hear someone say that they liked a movie better.  Why is this the case?  There are several reasons.


White House Front

Cost to use this house as the setting for your novel? FREE!

Writers can just make up shit with no regard to any sort of budget.  Want a fighter jet flying over a, erupting volcano and having the pilot eject before it crashes into the ocean?  Give a talented writer a thousand words or so, and she can set this scene and you’ll be able to visualize the scene in your mind.  Total cost to the writer?  $0.  It doesn’t matter if the main character lives in a weather-beaten shack or a huge mansion – the cost to use the home is the exact same to the writer.  

Additionally, the writer is actually offloading a big chunk of the work onto your brain.  She’s making use of your own imagination and prior knowledge.  You already know what a jet, volcano, and ocean look like.  There’s not need to spend time on the most basic descriptions. 

On the other hand, the movie is a visual (rather than abstract) presentation.  The director can’t simply describe the jet, the volcano, and the ocean.  He needs to actually procure the use of a jet, get footage of an erupting volcano, and find a way to fake a crash landing into an ocean.  This costs money.  In modern film making, an even bigger cost is special effects.  Effects that a novelist can describe with a few pages of well-crafted text can cost millions of dollars to bring to life on the screen.

In the end, the film maker is forced to make some concessions.  To bring every single detail to life could cost hundreds or millions – or even billions – of dollars.  At some point, a line has to be drawn in the sand.


When Tom Cruise was selected as the actor who would portray Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character in the upcoming film One Shot, many Reacher fans were aghast.  Reacher is a big guy – 6’5″ and 200+ pounds of pure muscle.  Tom Cruise is officially listed at 5’7″.  It seems to not be a great fit for the role.  Lee Child’s comment on the selection was that Reacher’s size was more of a metaphor than to be taken literally.  One can’t help but wonder if financial considerations came into play.

We’ve all seen movies where actors were a bad fit for a role – or simply had poor acting skills.  Again, a novelist offloads work to your brain when it comes to casting.  While every novelist will describe physical features of a character – some more than others – no author is going to describe every single aspect.  Much will be left to your imagination, and your can mold the characters to fit your preferences.  With a movie, you’re stuck with the bums who were cast for the roles.


Finally, the book has the element of surprise on its side.  While I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Hunger Games and even enjoyed the casting, I definitely wasn’t surprised at various twists and turns during the movie.  How could I be?  I had read the book, so I always knew when they were coming.  In fact, I used my knowledge of the plot to time my mid-movie pit stop (long movie + previews + large soda) so that I didn’t miss any good parts.  When I read the book, these plot twists were just that – surprises.

I’ve come to accept the fact that most movies are not going to be as good as the book – through no fault of the director.  If a movie is “almost as good” as a book, I consider it to be a pretty good movie.


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