One of the most highly-regarded mystery writers in the business, Lawrence Block has written over 50 novels during his career. He was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and was awarded the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award by Mystery Ink.
Books by Lawrence Block that I have read
Back of the book summary: A wake-up call is the last thing that Evan Tanner needs. Champion of lost causes and beautiful women, Tanner hasn’t slept a wink since the sleep center of his brain was destroyed. And with the FBI keeping tabs on him, the CIA tapping his phone, and a super-secret intelligence agency wanting to recruit him, keeping wide awake is definitely a smart choice. An alarming cause is the last thing Evan Tanner needs. But when a ravishing blonde comes calling with cries of help and claims of riches. Tanner finds he can’t resist. Smuggling her across the border of her native country, though, proves to be a difficult chore, especially when there’s all that loot to carry as well. Not to mention the law, which is one step behind him and quickly catching up. A welcome return is just the thing Evan Tanner needs. Here is his very first adventure, a rare treat from his creator, Edgar Award-winning author Lawrence Block.
Back of the book summary: Edgar Award-winning author Lawrence Block delivers the second suspenseful romp featuring one of his most popular characters: Evan Tanner. With a shocking array of talents and no need to sleep, Tanner poses as the perfect secret agent — to treat a Nazi war criminal to an early withdrawal. Janos Kotacek has been imprisoned by the Czech government and will no doubt be tried and hanged for his crimes. But to the super-secret intelligence agency that Tanner occasionally works for, Kotacek is worth more alive than dead. Tanner’s orders are simple: go to Prague…storm a castle…free a criminal. That, of course, is the easy part. Keeping himself and his captive alive will take all of Tanner’s waking hours. Good thing he’s got some to spare.
3. Tanner’s Twelve Swingers (1967)
Back of the book summary: Globe-trotting spy Evan Tanner has just accepted a daunting assignment: He’s agreed to find a heartsick friend’s long-lost love — and smuggle her out of Russia. Everyone Evan meets on his trek across Eastern Europe is desperate for a one-way ticket to America — and for many of those young people, he’s the only hope. There’s a subversive Yugoslavian author, a six-year-old future queen of Lithuania, and the beautiful woman Evan’s been sent to rescue — a sexy Latvian gymnast who wants to bring her eleven swinging teammates along for the ride. Now Evan has to find a way to get his unruly brood of political refugees safely onto U.S. soil. Some might say it’s an impossible task, but Evan always finishes what he’s started — even when his own life is on the line.
4. The Scoreless Thai (1968)
My mini book review: 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.
Back of the book summary: The hooker was young, pretty….and dead, butchered in a Greenwich Village apartment. The prime suspect, a minister’s son, was also dead, the victim of a jailhouse suicide. The case is closed as far as the NYPD is concerned. Now the murdered prostitute’s father wants it opened again — and that’s where Matthew Scudder comes in. But this assignment carries the unmistakable stench of sleaze and perversion, luring ex-cop-turned-investigator Scudder into a sordid world of phony religion and murderous lust where children must die for the parents’ most secret, unspeakable sins.
Back of the book summary: Bad cop Jerry Broadfield didn’t make any friends on the force when he volunteered to squeal to an ambitious DA about police corruption. Now he’s accused of murdering a call girl. Matthew Scudder doesn’t think Broadfield is a killer, but the cops aren’t about to help an unlicensed PI prove it — and they may do a lot worse than just get in his way.
Back of the book summary: Small-time stoolie, Jake “The Spinner” Jablon, made a lot of new enemies when he switched careers, from informer to blackmailer. And the more “clients,” he figured, the more money — and the more people eager to see him dead. So no one is surprised when the pigeon is found floating in the East River with his skull bashed in. And what’s worse, no one cares — except for Matthew Scudder. The ex-cop-turned-private-eye is no conscientious avenging angel. But he’s willing to risk is own life and limb to confront Spinner’s most murderously aggressive marks. A job’s a job after all — and Scudder’s been paid to find a killer — by the victim….in advance.
Back of the book summary: In Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, Lawrence Block delivers a one-two punch of fast action and faster wit, and proves not only that crime does pay, but that it’s really funny. Welcome, reader, to Bernie Rhodenbarr’s world of crime, where he’ll steal your heart — and probably something else. Bernie, suddenly on the run, couldn’t ask for a better place to hide than the anonymous streets of New York City — except for the fact his face is now in every tabloid newspaper and on every television newscast. Holing up at an out-of-town friend’s apartment, he meets up with a lovely young lady ready with aid and comfort….and other resources. At last Bernie’s got some time to figure out what’s going on, and who set him up. And why.
12. The Burglar in the Closet (1978)
Back of the book summary: At a routine teeth-cleaning Bernie Rhodenbarr discovers a few things. One, he’s got a cavity. Two, his dentist is unhappily married. Three, his dentist knows Bernie’s a burglar. Seems good old Dr. Sheldrake is in need of a burglar to steal back some valuable diamonds from the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs. Sheldrake. Next thing Bernie realizes he’s prowling around Crystal Sheldrake’s apartment when someone comes through the door. With only one place to hide, Bernie slips into the closet. Time passes, he emerges and there’s the lovely Crystal Sheldrake lying dead on the floor. To top it all off, the diamonds are gone. With his nemesis Detective Ray Kirschmann hot on his trail, Bernie starts chatting up suspects, chasing down a killer….and wishing he had just stayed in the closet.
13. The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979)
Back of the book summary: Bernie Rhodenbarr has gone legit — almost — as the new owner of a used bookstore in New York’s Greenwich Village. Of course, dusty old tomes don’t always turn a profit, so to make ends meet, Bernie’s forced, on occasion, to indulge in his previous occupation: burglary. Besides which, he likes it. Now a collector is offering Bernie an opportunity to combine his twin passions by stealing a very rare and very bad book-length poem from a rich man’s library. The heist goes off without a hitch. The delivery of the ill-gotten volume, however, is a different story. Drugged by the client’s female go-between, Bernie wakes up in her apartment to find the book gone, the lady dead, a smoking gun in his hand, and the cops at the door. And suddenly he’s got to extricate himself from a rather sticky real-life murder mystery and find a killer — before he’s booked for Murder One.
Back of the book summary: Bookselling burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr doesn’t generally get philosophical about his criminal career. He’s good at it, it’s addictively exciting — and it pays a whole lot better than pushing old tomes. He steals therefore he is, period. He might well ponder, however, the deeper meaning of events at the luxurious Chelsea brownstone of Herb and Wanda Colcannon, which is apparently burgled three times on the night Bernie breaks in: once before his visit and once after. Fortunately he still manages to lift some fair jewelry and an extremely valuable coin. Unfortunately burglar or burglars number three leave Herb unconscious and Wanda dead….and the cops think Rhodenbarr dunnit. There’s no time to get all existential about it — especially after the coin vanishes and the fence fencing it meets with a most severe end. But Bernie is going to have to do some deep thinking to find a way out of this homicidal conundrum.
Back of the book summary: Louis Pinnell, the recently apprehended “Icepick Prowler,” freely admits to have slain seven young women nine years ago — but he swears it was a copycat who killed Barbara Ettinger. Matthew Scudder believes him. But the trail to Ettinger’s murderer is twisted, dark and dangerous….and even colder than the almost decade-old corpse the PI is determined to avenge.
Back of the book summary: A frightened hooker named Kim asked private investigator Matthew Scudder to help her get out of “the Life.” Now she’s dead, slashed to ribbons in a high-rise hotel. Finding her killer will be Scudder’s penance. But there are lethal secrets hiding in Kim’s past that are far dirtier than her past — and many ways to die in this cruel and dangerous town.
Back of the book summary: It’s not that used bookstore owner and part-time burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr belives the less legal of his two professions is particularly ethical. (It is, however, a rush, and he is very good at it.) he just thinks it’s unfair to face a prison term for his legitimate activities. After appraising the worth of a rich man’s library — conveniently leaving his fingerprints everywhere in the process — Bernie finds he’s the cops’ prime suspect when his client is murdered. Someone has framed Bernie Rhodenbarr better than they do it at the Whitney. And if he wants to get out of this corner he’s been masterfully painted into, he’ll have to get to the bottom of a rather artful — if multiply murderous — scam.
Back of the book summary: In the dark days, in a sad and lonely place, ex-cop Matt Scudder is drinking his life away — and doing favors for pay for his ginmill cronies. But when three such assignments flow together in dangerous and disturbing ways, he’ll need to change his priorities from boozing to surviving.
Back of the book summary: Matthew Scudder understands the futility of his search for a longtime missing Midwestern innocent who wanted to be a an actress in the vast meat-grinder called New York City. But her frantic father heard that Scudder is the best — and now the ex-cop-turned-p.i. is scouring the hell called Hell’s Kitchen looking for anything that might resemble a lead. And in this neighborhood of the lost, he’s finding love — and death — in the worst possible places.
Back of the book review: Twelve years ago, Matthew Scudder lied to a jury to put James Leo Motley behind bars. now the ingenious psychopath is free. And an alcoholic ex-cop-turned-p.i. must pay dearly for his sins. Friend and former lovers — even strangers unfortunate enough to share Scudder’s name — are suddenly turning up dead. Because a vengeful maniac is determined not to rest until he’s driven his nemesis first back to the bottle….and then to the boneyard.
Back of the book review: A successful socialite’s beautiful wife was raped and murdered in her own home — and Matt Scudder believes the victim’s “grieving” husband was responsible for the outrage. To prove it, the haunted p.i. must descend into the depths of New York’s sex-for-sale underworld, where young lives commodities to be bought, perverted….and destroyed.
Back of the book review: A ruthless, ingenious pair of entrepreneurial is preying on the loved ones of those who live outside the law. Though he has no love for drug dealers and poison peddlers, ex-cop-turned-p.i. Matthew Scudder now must help them put two thrill-kill extortionists out of business — before another drop of innocent blood is spilled.
Back of the book summary: A deranged derelict, a crazed Vietnam vet, has been arrested for gunning down successful young lawyer Glenn Holtzmann at a corner phone booth on Eleventh Avenue — and the suspect’s brother wants p.i. Matthew Scudder to prove the madman innocent. But Scudder’s curiosity and dedication are leading him to dark, unexplored places in his own heart….and to passions and secrets that could destroy everything he loves.
Mini book review: 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.
Back of the book summary: A concerned member of the Club of 31 has asked ex-cop Matthew Scudder to look into the baffling thirty-year run of suicides and suspicious “accidents” that has thinned the ranks of the clandestine fraternal order of businessmen. But the Club’s woes threaten to intensify Scudder’s own mortality problems, whether bizarre coincidence is to blame….or maddeningly patient serial killer.
Back of the book summary: Keller is your basic Urban Lonely Guy. He makes a decent wage, lives in a nice apartment. Works the crossword puzzle. Watches a little TV. Until the phone rings and he packs a suitcase, gets on a plane, flies halfway across the country….and kills somebody. It’s a living. But is it a life? Keller’s not sure. He goes to a shrink, but it doesn’t work out the way he planned. He gets a dog, he gets a girlfriend. He gets along. You’ve never met anyone like Keller.
Back of the book summary: Keller is a regular guy. He goes to the movies, works on his stamp collection. Call him for jury duty and he serves without complaint. Then every so often he gets a phone call from White Plains that sends him flying off somewhere to kill a perfect stranger. Keller is a pro and very good at what he does. But the jobs have started to go wrong. The realization is slow coming, yet when it arrives, it is irrefutable: Someone out there is trying to hit the hit man. Keller, God help him, has found his way onto somebody else’s hit list.
Books by Lawrence Block on my reading list
5. Tanner’s Tiger (1968)
6. Tanner’s Virgin (1968)
7. Me Tanner, You Jane (1970)
26. The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart (1995)
27. Even The Wicked (1997)
28. The Burglar in the Library (1997)
29. Everybody Dies (1998)
30. Tanner On Ice (1998)
32. The Burglar in the Rye (1999)
34. Hope to Die (2001)
35. The Burglar on the Prowl (2004)
36. All the Flowers Are Dying (2005)
37. Hit Parade (2006)
38. Hit and Run (2008)
39. A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011)