Archive for category Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block 29: The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams

Like just about every kid born in the 1970s, I collected baseball cards in my youth. (In fact, with a quick glance, I know that the two prominent cards on the book’s cover are Don Mattingly and Ryne Sandberg Topps rookie cards.) In the 1980s, people made fortunes from cardboard as the prices for certain rookie cards skyrocketed. That market crashed in the 1990s and today, most cards are worth a fraction of what they were in their heyday. As you might suspect from the title, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams focuses on the theft of several valuable baseball cards. Enter Bernie Rhodenbarr, the book’s main character, who just happens to be a burglar. Only Bernie didn’t steal the cards. As in the previous five books in the series, Bernie tries to clear his name from one heist, while committing several others. Like baseball and baseball cards, this book is old school, similar to other Lawrence Block novels. A drink at lunch, coffee with every meal and cops on the take, this New York City is just as one would suspect it was before Rudy Giuliani cleaned things up. Block also flaunts the intellectual side of the Big Apple, as there are numerous references to literature and the arts and Bernie’s best friend is a female with an alternative lifestyle. (In an interesting touch, Rhodenbarr owns a used bookstore, which gives Block the ability to freely write about other authors. The running joke encompassing pages of dialogue in this book is Sue Grafton‘s Alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone.) As in all Block novels, the pace is steady and never frantic, the story builds to a climax and then things wrap up very nicely in the end. And while you may think you know where things are headed, there is always a twist or turn that you just hadn’t thought of. Which, of course, makes you keep coming back for more.

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Lawrence Block 5: Tanner’s Tiger

Leave it to Lawrence Block to pen a spy novel set at the World’s Fair. That’s exactly what he does in Tanner’s Tiger, where sleep-deprived spy and political scholar/activist Evan Tanner travels to Montreal for the 1968 Expo to investigate the Cuban exhibit. Getting into the Great White North proves difficult for Tanner, who has snuck into numerous unfriendly countries across the world. On his first attempt, he is turned away at Montreal Duval airport. His second attempt via car from Buffalo draws a tail, which leads to his arrest by the Canadian Mounties. In an entertaining twist, Tanner escapes on horseback and leads the police on a chase through downtown Montreal. With nowhere to run, Tanner turns to the Quebec separatist movement, where he meets a tiger named Arlette Sazerac and is drawn into a political assassination plot. Like the other Tanner books, one must use a James Bond-esque suspension of reality as the plot beautifully winds to a close. But if you can overlook the zany plot and focus on the artful dialogue and characters, you’ll enjoy the Block character that brings the political 1970s back to life.

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Lawrence Block 4: The Scoreless Thai

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 40 years since Lawrence Block wrote The Scoreless Thai, his fourth book featuring ultra-intellectual master spy Evan Tanner. As one can surmise from the title, most of the book takes place in Thailand, where Tanner comes to the rescue of a Kenyan princess who has been taken hostage. Tanner also befriends a sex-starved native whose lack of success is the basis for the title. In addition to Thailand, Tanner’s travels also take him to Laos and Korea, which were not popular destinations in 1968. (Two things struck me about Tanner’s travels. I recently spent 17 hours in the air flying from Washington, D.C. to Tokyo to Bangkok. Tanner’s 1968 flight from New York to San Francisco to Honolulu to Tokyo to Bangkok must have taken twice as much time. Once in Bangkok, Tanner was greeted by a customs agent who searched his suitcase. In modern day Bangkok, there were no customs agents.) Like previous books in the series, Block pens a zany espionage adventure featuring a lead character who cannot sleep thanks to a brain injury. Not to worry, Tanner uses this extra time for intellectual pursuits such as writing a doctoral thesis on “the socioeconomic implications of the Boxer Rebellion” for a lazy NYU grad student or writing articles for a variety of ethnic newsletters. Like his lead character Tanner, Block is a prolific writer and I always enjoy his novels featuring a variety of New York City-based lead characters with interesting quirks and lives.

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