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Bernie Rhodenbarr, lost and found…

June 11, 2013

I know, I know. It’s been over a month since I posted anything, and those of you who’ve recently signed up to follow this blog may wonder why you ever thought that was a good idea. Look on the bright side. Have I been cluttering your mailbox?

I’ve been away, on a small-ship cruise of the North Atlantic—and, as the proverbial curate said of his breakfast egg, parts of it were excellent. And now I’m back, and I’ve just discovered something on my hard drive that I barely recall writing. It’s an op-ed piece assigned by the Daily News close to twenty years ago, and, well, why take more words to describe it than the thing contains? 

Here you go:

MURDER ON LOCATION

So I ambled over to Barnegat Books on East Eleventh to get Bernie Rhodenbarr’s spin on the proposed real estate legislation. It was lunchtime, and my favorite burglar and his buddy, Carolyn Kaiser, were all set to tuck into the blue plate special from the Laotian joint around the corner. Raffles the Cat was in the fiction section, stalking imaginary mice.

“When I sell somebody a book,” Bernie said, “I’m under no obligation to tell the buyer who owned it last.”

“Sometimes you don’t have to,” Carolyn pointed out. “If there’s a bookplate. Or if it’s from a library.”

“Any ex-library copy in this store,” he said icily, “is stamped WITHDRAWN.”

I didn’t ask him where he kept the stamp. “Some people would argue that real estate’s a little different,” I said. “Nobody lives in a book.”

“Oh?”

“If you were going to buy a house,” I said, “or move into an apartment, wouldn’t you want to know if something horrible happened there?”

“This is New York,” he said. “Something horrible’s happened everywhere.”

“It’s true,” Carolyn said. “This store, for instance. Remember when we found the dead guy in the john?”

“Edwin Turnquist. A guy named Jacobi killed him and left him there.”

“And then we put him in a wheelchair and left him over by the river,” Carolyn recalled. “It was sort of like a granny-dumping, except he was already dead. And how about the carriage house on West18th where Wanda Colcannon was murdered? Or Abel Crowe’s place on Riverside Drive, where the podiatrist killed him?”

“Or East 67th Street, where J. Francis Flaxford was bludgeoned,” he said. “Or Gramercy Park, where Crystal Sheldrake was stabbed with one of her husband’s dental scalpels. Or the Nugents’ apartment on West End, where I found Luke Santangelo dead in the bathtub. Or Gordon Onderdonk’s apartment at the Charlemagne, or Hugo Candlemas’s floor-through at 76th and Lex.”

“Remember Walter Grabow, Bernie? Killed right in your apartment.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” he said. “But that’s the point, isn’t it? Even ordinary people like us can point to residences all over town where violent scenes have taken place.”

“Like the argument I had with Randy Messinger at my place on Arbor Court,” she said. “We were yelling at the top of our lungs.” She shuddered at the memory. “But you’re right, and think of the other murder sites we know about. The hotel where Kim Dakkinen was chopped to bits with a machete in Eight Million Ways to Die. The Bethune Street apartment where Wendy Hanniford was knifed in The Sins of the Fathers. The house in Sunset Park where Kenan Khoury caught up with his wife’s killer.”

“And what about the arena in Maspeth, where Matt and Mick Ballou faced off against Borden and Olga Stettner?”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Those are all books about Matthew Scudder. They’re novels.”

“So?”

“They’re fiction,” I said. “Don’t you know the difference?”

He shrugged. “Does anybody? Besides, this is New York. Everybody knows New York’s not about fact or fiction. New York’s about real estate. The facts don’t matter.”

“Then what does?”

Raffles the Cat leapt gracefully, demolishing a fictional mouse.

“Three things,” my larcenous friend said. “Location, location and location.”

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31 Comments
  1. I need to go back and revisit Bernie. Welcome home, Larry!

  2. Oh how I miss Bernie! He’s one of my all time favorites.

  3. I just read this Bernie book a few weeks ago…

  4. All LB entries welcome here.

  5. Love it! all the– “oh, I remember that one!” –thanks Larry for the memories. (Now I’ve got to re-read a few books.)

  6. Loved it…Thanks for the short diversion from, actually, real estate paperwork…Appropriate.

  7. Ray Sharp permalink

    I miss Bernie. Pleas sir, may I have another?

  8. Does this mean a Bernie book is in the works??

      • Oh well, I guess I’ll just have ro reread the ones I have already. And I think I have all of them. All of the Scudders too. And a couple of Kellers. I even have “Random Walk,” which I think is underrated.

      • Ah, Random Walk. No one paid any attention to it when Tor published it very quietly in the late 80s. Since then it’s developed a cult following of sorts. Spider Robinson wrote a marvelous introduction for a small-press edition; maybe I’ll post it one of these days…

      • Yes, Random Walk was a fine read. Posting the introduction would be great.

  9. Jorge R. Gonzalez permalink

    Bernie was one of my favorite characters, after Scudder of course.

    I beg you: could you write one more Bernie book? Raffles is a riot. When I was a kid they had this radio program in Cuba: “Rafles, el ladron de las manos de seda (Raffles, the burglar with hands of silk.)”

  10. I loved the entry.

  11. Levin Messick permalink

    Love the Bernie Rhodenbarr stories. Keller and Scudder are great. But I have always thought that Bernie was your best. Some of my friends in real estate will love this one.

  12. Mark B permalink

    Hope we aren’t bugging ya too much, but I’m another Bernie fan who’d love at least one more piece of memorable real estate to remember. Bernie was always a good book seller, a great burglar, and a fine educator. I always felt like I learned a lot from Bernie’s explanations of the crimes (both his crimes and those of his antagonists).

  13. Jim Corning permalink

    And no one has mentioned Evan. Now that he has warmed up, I would like to believe that he and Minna are very happy.

  14. juliabarrett permalink

    Oh LB! How fun, both the cruise and the excerpt!

  15. Lynn permalink

    Brought back many great memories. I’m assuming that you’ve written your final Matt Scudder book and think that the “last one” was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Perhaps you could think about giving us one more Bernie and wrap him up in a similar way? Whatever you write, please just keep writing. Lawrence Block books are my favorite.

  16. Gayle Miller permalink

    More Bernie please! And more Matthew Scudder while you’re at it….

  17. Lorraine Guile permalink

    More Bernie and more Matt Scudder, please. I’m not asking for too much, am I?

    • I’m sure if and when Mr. Block has a book in mind for Bernie and Scudder, he will write that book. Writers just can’t turn characters off and on in their head like a light switch.

      I’d like more books on Bernie and Scudder too, but writing just doesn’t work that way. You either have an idea for a plot for a certain character, or you don’t. You can’t squeeze out what isn’t there.

      • zaner66Adam permalink

        Sadly, I believe you you are correct. I had the wonderful fortune of stumbling across Bernie with the release of “Ted Williams”. Such a treat to have five other books to immediately dive into, followed by three more in rapid succession. Unfortunately, only one additional has come along in the last 14 years.

        Hopefully Mr. Block takes these requests for what they are: Praise from adoring fans who can not get enough of this fantastic creation.

      • pamelake permalink

        well Joe, it sure would be nice if writing did work that way –

  18. Greg Weiss permalink

    I love the world of Bernie Rhodenbarr. Reading and listening to the books on tape was really enjoyable. Thanks!

  19. Danny in Montreal permalink

    I’ve got a piece of my brain that generates titles for Bernie novels, based on scansion. So far, my favorite is “the Burglar who Drew like Jack Kirby.”

    (other possibilities include Heinlein, Gygax, and George Romero)

    • Great—you’re just 69,993 words short of a book.

      • Danny in Montreal permalink

        The aforementioned piece of my brain is digging eagerly through Kirby-life-and-career facts on which a Bernie novel could be based, but that way lies fanfic (and an unpleasant discovery about the labor and skill `required to produce a novel-length Bernie Rhodenbarr story).

        With that in mind, I present instead:

        __The Burglar who Respected Intellectual Property Laws__

        “Bernie?”

        “Yes, Carolyn?”

        “Why’re we sitting here and not doing anything, Bern?”

        “Because we don’t have a script, Carolyn. Lawrence didn’t send us one.”

        “But… Bern, if Lawrence didn’t send us a script, why’re we even here? Shouldn’t I be back in my shop? Shouldn’t you be back in *your* shop? And where’s ‘here’, for that matter?”

        “Relax. It’s just a comment thread on a blog post.”

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