There’s an old saying about how all good things must come to an end, but Lawrence Block seems to be doing his best to disprove that. Since announcing his “retirement” several years ago, he’s produced a number of excellent novels, novellas, and volumes of non-fiction. His most recent novel, THE BURGLAR WHO MET FREDRIC BROWN, will be out in October and just adds to that list, as it’s a top-notch job all around.
As regular readers will recognize instantly from the title, this novel is a new
entry in Block’s long-running and much-loved series about bookseller/burglar
Bernie Rhodenbarr. Bernie is mostly retired from his criminal profession
because of the proliferation of security cameras and advances in lock
technology, and his bookselling business isn’t doing much better because of
Amazon and eBay. But he’s still living a fairly enjoyable life in New York
City, hanging around in his free time with his best friend Carolyn, who has a
dog grooming salon near Bernie’s bookstore.
Then Bernie reads Fredric Brown’s science fiction novel WHAT MAD UNIVERSE, about alternate universes, and wakes up the next morning to discover that he and Carolyn have been transported to one such alternate universe, where security technology isn’t as advanced as it is in our world, and suddenly the fabulously valuable diamond Bernie had his eye on in our world (but knew he couldn’t steal) might just be within his reach after all . . .
Assuming he can navigate all the other changes from the world he knew and solve the two murders that take place along the way.
Block tackles a pretty tricky task in THE BURGLAR WHO MET FREDRIC BROWN, combining a traditional mystery with a science fiction/fantasy novel. It’s been done before, of course. Isaac Asimov’s THE CAVES OF STEEL and THE NAKED SUN come to mind, along with a number of futuristic private eye yarns. However, most of those are science fiction novels that are also mysteries, instead of the other way around, and I think that’s a significant distinction. This novel incorporates science fictional elements into a well-established mystery series, and I’m not sure that’s been done before.
Block makes both sides of this combination work well, but ultimately, I don’t think it matters much. Like much of Block’s recent work, THE BURGLAR WHO MET FREDRIC BROWN seems to be more about the passage of time and the relationships of the characters than anything else. With its references to earlier books in the series, along with the reappearances of characters from those books, this book strikes me as a love letter to the readers and a fond farewell to Bernie and Carolyn. I’d almost say that it’s elegiac, but I don’t normally use highfalutin words like that, and besides, it implies that Block will never write another Bernie Rhodenbarr novel, and at this point, I’m not betting money on that.
If it is the final Burglar novel, though, it’s a good way to go out. I enjoyed THE BURGLAR WHO MET FREDRIC BROWN and think it’s well worth reading. If you’re a Block fan, you probably have it on pre-order already, and if you don’t, it’s available to do so in both paperback and ebook editions.
In his last newsletter, Block mentioned that he’s more than 30,000 words into a new novel. I don’t what it’ll be, but I’m sure I’ll read it. As far as I know, he’s already been writing novels longer than any other American author currently alive (he started a few years earlier than Robert Vaughan), so why stop now?