Home > 2010, 21st Century, American Literature, Block Lawrence, Crime Fiction, Polar > The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block – libraire and gentleman burglar

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block – libraire and gentleman burglar

January 10, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block. (2013) French title: Le voleur qui comptait les cuillères. Translated by Mona de Pracontal.

This is an impulse purchase from my last visit to a bookstore before Christmas. I’d never heard of Lawrence Block but the cover of the book winked at me and who doesn’t want to read a crime fiction book whose main character is a libraire/gentleman burglar?

Bernie Rhodenbarr is a bookseller in Manhattan. His life is split between running the shop, having lunches and drinks with his best friend Carolyn and breaking and entering into buildings at night upon clients’ stealing orders. In The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, a Mr Smith wants him to sneak an original copy of Fitzgerald’s short-story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button out the Galtonbrook Museum. Then Mr Smith wants a spoon with a portrait of Button Gwinnett who signed the United States Declaration of Independence for the state of Georgia. So, our Mr Smith is obsessed with buttons…

Meanwhile, Mrs Ostermaier is found dead in her brownstone. It looks like a burglar was disturbed by Mrs Ostermaier coming back early from her opera night. Ray, a police officer from the NYPD pays a visit to Bernie. He knows about his illegal occupations although Bernie swears that he has retired from burglaries. Ray takes Bernie to the crime scene to have a reformed burglar’s opinion. Bernie thinks that the theft is a smoke screen and that Mrs Ostermaier was murdered before the place was turned upside down to make it look like breaking and entering.

Block mixes two plot threads, the one about Mr Smith and his button collection and the one about Mrs Ostermeir’s death. Bernie and his sidekick Carolyn act as unofficial NYPD investigators. Lots of things are illegal and unorthodox in the story. Bernie gathers evidence with his burglar skills, looks closer into Mr Smith and Block dares to write a grand finale à la Poirot.

This is a gourmet and light crime fiction book. The dialogues are witty and laced with bookish and historical references or explanations. Bernie is erudite and he shares freely with the reader. The minor characters are well-drawn, even Bernie’s cat, Raffles. When she’s not involved in Bernie’s shenanigans Carolyn works at Poodle Factory and their friendship is a highlight of the book, with their daily drinks at the Bum Rap, their sleepover nights and confidences about their respective love lives. The clients of the bookstore add to the fun and New York itself is a presence in the novel.

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons is the 11th book of the Rhodenbarr series. Block is a prolific writer, with four different series: Matt Scudder, PI in New York, Bernie Rhodenbarr, libraire extraordinaire, Evan Tanner, secret agent and Keller, hitman. He has written under several pennames in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly books without recurring characters.

I enjoyed The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons and I recommend this series as lighthearted crime fiction, one of those books you read for entertainment, to cleanse your palate after a tough read or spend a few hours in oblivion, away from the news. I’d like to read more books by Lawrence Block but there are so many of them that a little help picking the good ones is welcome.

PS : The pink cover is the original edition. What was the publisher thinking? Self-sabotaging the book to have a tax write-off?

  1. January 10, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    Sounds very entertaining but agree about that pink cover – hideous!


  2. January 10, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve read a couple of the Matt Scudder books. They are solidly written American noir, with an interesting “detective,” but they are heavy-hearted – brutal and dark. Violent, and then more violent. Women suffer for Scudder’s sins.

    I think the two books were Eight Million Ways to Die and A Ticket to the Boneyard, for what that is worth.


    • January 10, 2021 at 11:02 pm

      Hi Tom.
      I’ve read that the Matt Scudder ones are with an alcohoolic PI, I’m not sure I’m ready for another series with a drunk character. And now you tell me it’s quite violent. I think I’ll stick to Bernie.


  3. January 10, 2021 at 10:03 pm

    The Matt Scudder books are very different in style, but these ones are much more enjoyable and digestible.


    • January 10, 2021 at 11:03 pm

      Sounds like I’m the only one who’ve never read him!
      I’m not in the mood to read gritty polars at the moment. I want escapism and not too much gratuitous violence.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 11, 2021 at 11:56 am

        I completely understand. My fuse is shorter than ever when it comes to women as victims of serial killers, in particular!!!


        • January 12, 2021 at 9:00 am

          Yes, that’s exactly the feeling.


  4. January 10, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    Read a couple of the Bernie books and thoroughly enjoyed them – characters and the humor. Haven’t read anything from his other series though. At least it’s a man who got stuck with the ugly pink cover, not a woman!


    • January 10, 2021 at 11:08 pm

      More Bernie in my future, I think. It’s enjoyable, isn’t it.

      I thought the same thing about the pink cover and the fact that for once, it’s not for a woman writer. Great minds think alike 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. January 11, 2021 at 11:40 am

    All library books in Western Australia (in municipal libraries) are owned by the State Library so I searched for Lawrence Block on their website and came up with 188 books. The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes has a very sexy cover. There are multiple copies of The Burglar Who … but not in audiobook that I could see. A library nearby has The Topless Tulip Caper, and one I belong to (I belong to several for the variety) has Such Men are Dangerous. I’ll have to give them a try


    • January 12, 2021 at 9:06 am

      188 books. Wow. More than three books per year during 50 years.
      It’s hard to pick the best ones in this forest of books.
      I’ll stay with Bernie


      • January 12, 2021 at 9:29 am

        Sorry, multiple copies in there at different libraries. Still lots of titles though.


        • January 12, 2021 at 7:39 pm

          Yes, still a lot of titles. 🙂


  1. January 16, 2021 at 8:03 am

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