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.

 

 

What’s going on

October 26, 2013

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I’m not writing nearly as much as I have in the past.  That’s because life has been really busy lately, mostly with work (no, I don’t get overtime pay).  I’ll try to write more regularly.

I got an early Christmas present on Wednesday.  My favorite author, Lawrence Block, announced that he has a new book, The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons, due out on Christmas day.  Fifteen minutes later, I received an email from his PR person, asking if I would like an advance review copy.  Do I want a free copy of my favorite author’s new book, two months before it goes on sale?  Absolutely.  The $10 I save is nothing compared to to joy of getting the book early.  This is the third time in a row that I’ve received a free copy of a Block book.  He or his peole have always offered – I’ve never needed to sweet talk anyone.  I’ve reviewed several Block books on this site in the past, and also profiled him.  Sometimes people take notice when you show an appreciation for their work.

My 2nd and 3rd favorites teams are facing off in the World Series.  That’s pretty cool.  I wore my Cardinals Matt Holliday shirt over the weekend and received several compliments.  I don’t actually have any Red Sox apparel.

The Dominican Winter League is also kicking off.  I was attempting to learn some Spanish prior to the start of the season, but that plan flopped due to lack of time (see paragraph 1).  After a couple attempts to stream Licey’s game from their web site, I realized that for whatever reason, it wasn’t working on my iPhone 3GS, despite the fact that it worked on my Mac.  I paid $1.99 to download the Lidom Movil app, and eventually figured out to “Click acqui” to get the live streaming.  By then, I was only able to catch the final inning of the game, which Los Tigres won.  If you’re a baseball junkie, consider following the DWL.  The experience is probably a lot better if you understand more than a dozen words of Spanish, but even with that limitation, it should be fun for me.

I’m fairly active on Twitter these days.  I’m always a bit surprised at the people who seem to take great joy in bashing a well-known person every chance they get.  It seems very weird that someone would follow a person that they don’t even like.  There are a number of baseball announcers that I dislike, but I don’t Twitter-stalk Joe Buck.

 

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Review: Hit Me by Lawrence Block

December 3, 2012

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The first time I encountered Lawrence Block’s hit man, Keller, I wasn’t overly impressed.  I finished the book, but Keller just didn’t see to resonate with me nearly as well as other Block characters like gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr or private eye Matt Scudder.  A couple of years later, I discovered that one of the Keller books, Hit and Run, took place in my home state of Iowa.  That was enough of a reason for me to give Keller a second chance.  This time, he quickly grew on me (much like a fungus).  I became fond of Keller and have read several of the Keller books since then.

Several months ago, Block announced that a new Keller book, Hit Me, would be coming out in February.  I pre-ordered it immediately, so that it would magically appear on my Kindle on the release date.

Then, last week, something appears in my inbox.  An advanced reading copy of the book.  Yes, Christmas came early this year …

Without further ado, let’s get to the book.

Hit Me, like several other Keller books, is broken into a number of shorter works.  In the case of Hit Me, these are five stories: Keller in Dallas, Keller’s Homecoming, Keller at Sea, Keller’s Sideline, and Keller’s Obligation.  While the stories mesh with each other chronologically, they can also be read independently of each other.  The final story ends rather abruptly, leaving you wanting more. 

The People

An important aspect of the Keller books has always been Keller’s relationship with Dot, the woman who lines up work for him.  Although Keller and Dot go long stretches without contact, she often knows him better than he knows himself.  In theory, their relationship is professional.  However, in reality, they are very good friends.  Their phone conversations often drift into fun trivial tangents.  However, other times they discuss the big question: is it morally acceptable to kill people for profit?

In Hit and Run, Keller was forced to abandon New York City.  He ended up landing in New Orleans in the typical “boy meets girl, boy kills girl’s attacker, boy marries girl” fashion.  Keller is now a family man, settled down with a wife and young daughter.  This makes him wonder if it’s time to leave his line of work behind – but he always seems to get drawn back in.  His wife, Julia, is aware of his secret, and she has to figure out what she thinks of a man who kills for a living.  The story Keller at Sea gives us a prolonged look at Julia.

I’m hoping there are many more Keller books in the future.  Keller’s daughter (inverted) Jenny is just three years old now.  At some point in the future, will she learn what her daddy does for a living?  Will she eventually join the family business?   

The Stories

The five stories in the book take Keller away from his New Orleans home to Dallas, New York, an ocean cruise, Cheyenne, Denver, and Buffalo (coincidentally, the author’s childhood home).  The people targeted by Keller’s clients include a wealthy criminal, a prominent member of the clergy, and a fourteen year old stamp collector (Keller wouldn’t kill a kid – would he?).  We also see Keller being seduced – by a lonely widow and a sexy widow-wannabe.  Will Keller give in to temptation, or stay true to Julia (come on, Keller, keep it zipped)?

Although Keller’s moral compass might be a few degrees away from true north, he still does have a basic sense of right and wrong guiding his life.  He always strives to get the job done with a minimal amount of collateral damage.  However, Keller’s killings never go exactly according to plan.  Some little wrinkle always pops up – sometimes organically and sometimes supplied by Dot – and Keller needs to determine the best way to handle it.  Even dream jobs aren’t without their challenges … 

Keller always attacks the situation in a matter-of-fact way.  It’s interesting to see a killer portrayed as a true professional.  Killing someone isn’t as easy as flying to a different city, shooting them in the head, and flying back home.  The killing is only half the job – getting away with it is the other half.  Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance, as they say.

For those of your who are currently apprentices in the profession, the Keller books are a good way to learn some tricks of the trade.

Block is a master story-teller.  He managed to make even the most mundane details seem interesting.  Why would anyone really care what Keller eats for breakfast?  Well, I would – Keller’s thought process on the topic is pretty interesting. 

In terms of mood, the Keller stories fall somewhere between the Bernie and Scudder books.  Not as lighthearted as Bernie can be at times, but not as dark as the Scudder books can sometimes get.

The Stamps

Many years ago, Keller got into stamp collecting as a way to hide his ill-gotten gains.  The Keller books have always discussed philately.  If you’re a stamp collector yourself, you’re likely to enjoy Keller’s pursuit of various stamps and interaction with other collectors.  You may also learn a few things about geography and history along the way.  The author draws upon his own philatelic experiences for the Keller character.  In fact, Block has published a book about his stamp collecting experiences,  Generally Speaking, which is composed of columns he wrote for Linn’s Stamp News.  If you read Generally Speaking (which I, as a non-collector, found very enjoyable) you’ll note a lot of similarities between Keller and the author.

The killings, however, are purely works of fiction.

Probably.

Verdict

If you’re a Keller fan, definitely pre-order.  These are very interesting Keller tales that show our hero moving to a new phase of his life.  If you haven’t tried the Keller books yet, give Hit Me a chance.  You won’t regret it.
 

 

Give An Author A Second Chance

June 27, 2012

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Lawrence Block & Robert Silverberg

Lawrence Block (left) & Robert Silverberg

Regular readers know that my favorite author is Lawrence Block.  Block has been writing since the 1950s, and continues to write new work.  About a decade ago, a friend gave me Burglars Can’t be Choosers, and I was hooked.  In pretty quick succession, I read all of the burglar books and also started working my way through Block’s Matt Scudder books.

There are ten Burglar books and seventeen Scudder novels (plus a short story anthology).  I’ve put more than a few dollars in Block’s pocket over the years.  I’ve also read some of his books on writing, and of course his short story omnibus Enough Rope.

Block also has three series of novels based on the following characters:

  • Evan Tanner – Tanner has the sleep center in his brain destroyed as the result of a war injury, and is now incapable of sleep.  He uses the extra eight hours of each day to learn about a myriad of topics, and manages to get himself involved in a lot of international escapades.
  • Keller – A professional hit man who actually had a conscience.
  • Chip Harrison – A private detective who works a boss who is infatuated with Nero Wolfe.

On the surface, I should love two of these characters.  The destroyed sleep center aspect of Tanner is cool, as well as his interesting take on politics.  Keller is a hit man who spends his spare time (and money) collecting stamps, of all things.  I’ve never read Nero Wolfe, so the Chip Harrison novels wouldn’t be something that would necessarily be my cup of tea.

So I bought a Tanner and Keller book.  I hated them and wasn’t able to finish them.  I was disappointed that I was unable to appreciate books written by my favorite author, but fiction is very much a matter of taste, and I simply didn’t like them.

Fast forward five or six years.  I was in the public library looking for some audio books to read.  I saw a Keller book.  On a whim, I decided to give it a shot.  I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed the book immensely.  I read the other Keller books and liked all of them.  I liked them so much that I pre-ordered the upcoming Keller book, Hit Me.  The book doesn’t come out until February, but I’ve had my pre-order in for a couple of months.

I also rediscovered Tanner.  My rediscovery in this case was two-forked.  It turns out that Tanner was a favorite character of a good friend’s dad.  The friend’s dad served his country in Vietnam, raised his son alone after his wife deserted them, and fought a courageous battle against cancer – an outstanding role model for his son and the community.  After he passed away, I often thought of reading some Tanner books, just to see if I could see the same things he saw in them.  A bit later, I read Lawrence Block’s Afterthoughts, a collection of the forewords and afterwords from his books.  Block’s thoughts about the Tanner books were the clincher – I needed to give them a second chance.  I found out that I liked the Tanner books as well.

I have yet to read the Chip Harrison books … but I’m sure that in time I will.

If you have every given up on an author, or on a book, I urge you to give it a second chance a bit later.  The years won’t change the text in the book, but they will change you, and you may appreciate the book more.
 

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What Books Have You Bought Lately?

February 29, 2012

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I love to read, but it often comes in fits and starts, generally dependent on how easily my kids go to bed (which directly affects the amount of free time I have).  I’ve been doing a bit more reading lately, and have purchased  fair number of books lately.  Here’s a quick rundown of a few.

I’ve been buying almost exclusively for my Kindle lately … great little device.
 

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I really enjoy King’s writing, but my favorite books of his are the ones he writes outside of the horror genre.  Perhaps my all-time favorite is Apt Pupil, although Shawshank Redemption is also quite good.  FYI: you can find both of these novellas in King collection Different Seasons.  Buy it.  Now.

In 11/22/63, the protagonist, Jake Epping (current day resident), receives a call from the owner of his favorite greasy spoon.  The guy has found a portal into the past.  He’s become too sick to take advantage of it, but wants Jake to go into the portal and save the life of John F. Kennedy.  I’m 20% of the way into this book and loving every page so far.  Really nothing supernatural about it, aside from the whole aspects of time travel (and I’m a sucker for a good time travel novel).  I’m beginning to have some thoughts about a few characters in the book and might have an idea about a sub-plot that might develop, but it’s far too early to tell if I’m right or wrong.
 

 

Enough Rope by Lawrence Block

Enough Rope is an omnibus of short stories by mystery grandmaster Lawrence Block.  The wheels on the omnibus do indeed go round and round.  The stories include popular Block characters Bernie Rhodenbarr, Matt Scudder, Keller, Tanner, and Chip Harrison, as well as dozens of other stories.  It’s nearly 900 pages in hardcover.

I’ve actually talked about the book before.  Probably more than once.  Until recently, it held a fairly unique distinction of being one of just a handful of books that I owned in paperback and hardcover.

Now, it is the only book that I own in three formats.  I finally broke down and bought the Kindle edition.  Yeah, it’s that good.
 

 

What it Was by George Pelecanos

With several dozen (eh, probably as many as a hundred) books in my “yet to be read” queue, I buy a book from an author I had never heard of before.  I must have had a very good reason for doing that, right?

Well, yeah.  Lawrence Block told me to.  Here’s a pro tip: if you want me to buy your book, have Lawrence Block say something nice about it.

Also, the pre-order price was just 99 cents (and as of Feb 28, 2012, it’s at that price again).  I’ll gamble a dollar on an unfamiliar author.

Like 11/22/63, What it Was is also set in the past (1970s), but via the normal method (by having the author set in in that period) rather than time travel.
 

 

A Changed Man by Martin Kelly

Ok, I’ll be honest with you on this one. I didn’t actually buy this book.  I have a publisher’s copy, since I’m the publisher.  As the regular readers know, Martin is a longtime writer for this site.  A few years ago, he knocked out A Changed Man during the month long NaNoWriMo event.  He’s been refining it ever since.  Last week, he flipped me the Word file, and a few days later, it had been Kindleized.

The book is about how a man reclaims his life after being involved in a serious accident.  He was drunk and the other driver died.  I’m not very far in yet (Martin’s going head to head with 11/22/63, and Stephen King’s a tough draw in the “books Kosmo is reading” bracket), but I like what I’ve read so far.  I’m definitely wondering why the DA dropped the charges, though.  I’m sure there’s a reason, and look forward to finding the answer and exploring more about John Lickler’s life.
 

 

OK, now let’s turn the tables.  Which books have YOU bought lately  – and what are you currently reading?

 

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Random Thoughts From Kosmo

July 22, 2011

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There’s much debate in Washington – and much discussion around the nation – about whether or not to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Realistically, everyone knows that the debt ceiling must be raised. In recent history, neither party has had a track record of balancing the budget. There’s chatter about cutting spending, but when the rubber hits the road, members of both parties have their own pet projects.

Wondering how to make some money in the financial markets?  Figure out where the money will go after the gold bubble bursts.  When people realize that the speculators have turned gold into a de facto currency – while at the same time criticizing de jure (fiat) currency – they may realized that investing in shiny rocks might not be the best idea in the world.  When the crash comes, investors will be scrambling for a safe place to put their money.  If you can figure out where they will put their money, you might be able to ride a bit of a surge when demand outstrips supply in that market (at which point, you should consider selling).

The NFL owners ratified a new labor deal with the union. It could be a while before the players ratify the same deal. More often than not, I side with players in sports labor issues – but not this time. I really feel that many of the tactics of the players – most notably their sham decertification of union (a union which continues to bargain on their behalf) – amount to bargaining in bad faith. I’d actually be interesting in having the courts weigh in on the issues. If a deal isn’t done soon, we’re looking at the possibility of some lost games (pre-season, at least) and a compressed off-season. The proposed shortened free agency period seems like a very bad deal for the players – giving them little time to shop around for a deal. Personally, I’ve been staying away from the NFL for the last two years after my team signed Brett Favre – and I’m really close to walking away from the NFL permanently. There’s plenty of baseball year-round to keep my occupied.

The Colorado Rockies have been listening to trade offers for ace Ubaldo Jimenez.  In talks with the Yankees, they were reportedly looking for a deal in which Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero – an elite hitting prospect – did not make up the bulk of the value in the deal.  Although Jimenez’s number are not close to his 15-1 start at the beginning of last year, he’s not doing as poorly as you might thing.  After a horrible start to the year (0-5, 5.86 ERA though the end of May), Jimenez is 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA since June 1.  A big key to his success has been a dramatic reduction in number of walks.  Jimenez has also been downright dominant this year on the road – a 2.28 ERA and a stunningly low .158 batting average allowed.  I’d prefer to keep Jimenez, but I trust GM Dan O’Dowd.  After all, he did very well in the Matt Holliday trade, obtaining Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street in the deal.

I’ve been reading an old book by a favorite author lately. The Kindle edition of Lawrence Block’s Killing Castro is available for $2.99.  Not only in the story set in 1961, it was published in 1961 under a pen name.  I’m about 75% of the way through the book, and am thoroughly enjoyed it.  How often can you read a 50 year old book by an author who is still producing new books?

Speaking of Amazon … if you like The Soap Boxers, consider using the big Amazon ad at the top of the right side of the screen as your entry point into Amazon.  This will give us a small commission when you buy things, and there is no additional cost to you.  Consider this to be payment for the many articles on this site 🙂

Lawrence Block: An Author Who “Gets It”

July 7, 2011

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I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of crime writer Lawrence Block.  I’ve profiled him in one article and placed him atop my baker’s dozen list of favorite authors.  He has written novels, short stories, and even writes a monthly column in a philately magazine.  Additionally, he has written books for other authors – books that have been instrumental in my own writing.

Just as importantly, he is FUN.  His web site is a departure from the sterile sites you see elsewhere.  If you look carefully, you can see that he is actually selling books on the site (autographed), but the sales seem to take a back seat to the newsletter and other general chatter.  Really, you get the feeling that you are “in the know”.  Even the bookselling sounds like a quaint operation involving one guy shoving each book into a box and hand-printing the address.

Block is 73 years old, and is showing no signs of slowing down.  He recently released a new Matthew Scudder novel, A Drop of The Hard Stuff.  September will see the release of Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence (I have no idea what that might be about) with Block writing under the pseudonym Jill Emerson.

I don’t have the details of Block’s financial status (that would be a bit stalker-ish), but with millions of sales under his belt, I suspect that he doesn’t need to postpone grocery shopping until his Social Security check arrives.  He’s past the customary retirement age, and it would be perfectly understandable if he decided to ride off into the sunset and simply quit writing.  But he hasn’t – he continues to write (although it’s been a damn long time since the last Bernie novel).

Several months ago, I found the septuagenarian on Facebook.  Unlike some authors, who only say something when they’re trying to sell you their new book (or get you to see the movie based on their book), Block interacts with his fans – from the “Rabbit, rabbit” for good luck on the first of every month to the daily affirmations for writers.  In between, he shares interesting insights, stories, and photos (he’s also a world traveler).  He actually – GASP – responds when people comment on his status.  He interacts with his Facebook friends as if they are, well … his friends.  Yes, he does occasionally link to items for sale – but in his typically self-deprecating manner.

He is also a man who embraces technology.  Recently, he has been bombing the landscape with Kindle versions of his short stories.  Brilliant, really, because who can argue that 99 cents is too high a price?  With the relatively low amount of work that goes into preparing an electronic edition, it’s easy to cost-justify the time spent – and it allows fan to get their grubby little paws (er, Kindles) on stories that haven’t been published in many years.

When block turned 73 back on on June 24, he celebrated bu jumping onto Twitter.  More recently, he launched his own blog (smartly opting for WordPress, the same software that powers The Soap Boxers).  What’s next – FourSquare 🙂

All in all, it seems like Lawrence Block is having a great time playing with all the new technology and having a grand time chatting with all his fans.  You want to know a great way to build loyalty in your fan base?  Interact with them as if there were peers – exactly what Block does.

I happen to have a signed copy of a Lawrence Block book.  No, I haven’t been lucky enough to meet him at a signing, nor did I buy one from his site.  While at a chain retail store that sells new and used books, I saw a copy of One Night Stands and Lost Weekends on the bargain shelf for $2.  I already had a copy, but was with a friend of mine who had never read any of Block’s work.  I grabbed the book and intended to present it as a gift.  On the way back to the office, I was flipping to the table of contents (don’t worry – I was a passenger) to tell my friend how many stories were included in my collection.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself in possession of an autographed copy.

I kept the autographed book and bought my friend a nice copy of Enough Rope – which is a far longer collection, anyway.  I’d call that a win-win situation.

What’s Keeping Kosmo Entertained?

January 17, 2010

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Our entertainment column has been on hiatus for a while, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite things to read and watch lately.  I’ve actually been watching more TV than I have in a long time – because I’ll watch in the wee hours of the morning when feeding the baby.

Monk – This was a show that my wife and I always watched religiously, until Ugly Betty popped in the same time slot for a while.  Unfortunately, the show has come to a conclusion.   I was pleased with the way it wrapped up, though.  I do have a couple of seasons on DVD that I can watch when I start going into withdrawal.

NCIS – Since I’m an aspiring crime novelist, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that crime dramas top my list of shows to watch.  I’ve eschewed CSI.  Despite the strong basis in forensics, it just doesn’t seem particularly believable and seems a bit contrived from the small bits I’ve watched.  NCIS mixes forensics with other investigative techniques, all within a military setting.  I really like Mark Harmon as an actor, and the supporting cast is good as well.  NCIS is a favorite show for me to watch on my wireless headphones while I’m shoveling snow.  The fact that it’s an hour long means that I can make decent headway shoveling during the course of a show.

M*A*S*H – When I was a kid, M*A*S*H and Wheel of Fortune competed in the same time slot.  My mom liked Wheel (and actually won something in a call-in contest through the local TV station once) and Dad liked M*A*S*H.  Personally, I thought both shows were pretty stupid.  Years later, I’m still not a fan of Wheel of Fortune, but I love M*A*S*H. I really need to snap up the DVD collection at some point. (All 11 Seasons (Amazon), All 11 seasons + Movie + Bonus Material (Amazon))

I’m also doing some reading, of course.  Yesterday, my fresh new copy of Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster for 2010
arrived on my doorstep.  This book is one of my tools for fighting the winter blahs.  Shandler analyzes secondary statistics in order to determine if a player’s basic statistical inputs accurately reflect his skill set, or are based largely on luck.  It’s a handy tool to have before your fantasy draft – did a player that you like actually have a breakout year in 2009 (and thus great things on the horizon) or was he lucky?

And, of course, I’m reading short stories by the master, Lawrence Block.  I’m currently reading One Night Stands and Lost Weekends, a collection of some of Block’s very early work.  The stories are great, but be sure to read the introduction as well – it’s as interesting as any of the fiction stories in the book.

I’m also reading a few blogs, of course.  I highly recommend all of the blogs that you see in the right column.  Today, I’ll give special attention to Living with Balls.  The author writes about sports and other manly pursuits (such as relationships and farting), with an unabashedly male point of view.  Haute couture it is not, funny it often is.  Be forewarned – if you don’t like it, you’ll probably hate it.  I can’t imagine that there is much middle ground.

Lawrence Block author profile

February 19, 2009

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One day in the waning years of the last century, my friend Linda S loaned me the book Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. This small act has had a big impact. This book introduced me to Bernie Rhodenbarr and his creator, the author Lawrence Block. Over the course of a decade, he has become firmly entrenched as my favorite writer.

Block has several majors characters, and I ended up reading dozens of his books. First, let’s take a look at his characters.

Bernie Rhodenbarr

Bernie is a bookstore owner. He is also a part time burglar (thus all of his books contain that word). Bernie is semi-retired from the profession (mostly due to a distaste from the “free government housing” fringe benefit of the job). Nowadays, Bernie only takes the occasional job from a friend (or friend of a friend).

Unfortunately for Bernie, he has a tendency to stumble across murders, and usually ends up as the prime suspect. He has to figure out who the real killer in order to get off the hook.

Bernie’s books also feature his friend Carolyn (a lesbian who owns a pet grooming service) and his cat, Raffles. The books are very funny, and are my favorite of Block’s books.

There are ten books in the Burglar series, published between 1977 and 2004. I have read all of them. We should be seeing another one soon, right?

One of the books was turned into the movie “Burglar”, starring Whoopi Goldberg. Don’t blame Block for the movie, though. He didn’t like it, either.

Matthew Scudder

The Scudder books are a complete 180 degree turn from the Burglar books. The Burglar books are quite funny, whereas the Scudder books are devoid of humor.

Matthew Scudder is a former cop who now works as an unlicensed private investigator. He is also a sober alcoholic, so he generally finds the time to attend a couple of AA meetings during the course of a book.

The Scudder books have a tendency to be violent, especially when he is hanging out with his friend Mick Ballou, a bar owner/criminal (probably not the best situation for a guy fighting alcoholism, but Mick is an old friend). Scudder’s moral compass tends to point fairly close to north, though. He does some bad things, but he does them for the right reasons.

Scudder’s significant other is Elaine. Elaine and Scudder have a long history. They met when Elaine was a high priced hooker and Scudder was a young cop. Midway through the series, we are introduced to TJ, a kid with street smarts who proves very valuable to Scudder.

There are sixteen books in the Scudder series, published between 1976 and 2005. I have read all sixteen.

Evan Tanner
Tanner served in the Korean war and suffered a serious injury. The result was that the “sleep center” in his brain was damaged. This means that Tanner never sleeps – literally.

Tanner ends up as a spy, where his ability to be awake all the time is very useful. Tanner’s job take him all around the world.

I’ve read a couple of the Tanner novels, but they didn’t grab me. They weren’t bad, they simply didn’t have that ge na sais quoi of the Burglar and Scudder novels (those guys set the bar pretty high). I actively read a billion authors (well, maybe twelve) and Tanner’s books just miss the cut, unfortunately.

There are eight novels in the Tanner series. Seven were written between 1966 and 1970, and the last was written in 1998. That book – Tanner on Ice – features Tanner being awaken from a cryogenic state.

I have not read all of Block’s book. Here are some of his other characters:

Keller – A professional hit man. I have read one of the Keller books. They just aren’t my type of book. There are four Keller novels, published between 1998 and 2008.

Chip Harrison – There are four books in the Chip Harrison series, all published between 1970 and 1975.

Paul Kavanaugh – There are three books in the Paul Kavanaugh series, published between 1969 and 1974.

Other novels – Block has also written a variety of novels (and novellas) that are not a part of a particular series. Some of these have been published in collections. This is a great way to acquire multiple books for a good price.

Books for writers – Block has written four books for writers – Writing the Novel from Plot to Print (1979), Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (1981), Write for Your life (1986), and Spider, Spin Me a Web (1987). I have read Telling Lies and Spider, and they are great books for the aspiring writer.

Enough Rope
Enough Rope is a collection of short stories. It is a massive book, nearly 900 pages in hardcover. I originally received a paperback version of this book as a gift. I quickly realized that this book would be a companion for life, and purchased the hardcover copy (lending the paperback copy to the communal library at my office). You will see many of the characters from Block’s novels also appear in the short stories, as well as several stories about lawyer Martin Ehrengraf. If you’re not sure which of the Block characters you will like, this book would be a good place to start.

There are also a lot of free-standing stories in the collection. All of the stories can be read in one sitting. Two of my favorites are Cleveland in My Dreams and Funny You Should Ask.

If you only purchase one Lawrence Block book, buy Enough Rope (I would recommend buying several books, of course).

The man
Lawrence Block is now 70 years old. In addition to writing, he competes in distance walking (24 hour races, marathons, ultramarathons). You can buy signed copies of his books – and keep up with his exploits – at LawrenceBlock.com

Lawrence Block

Enough Rope