LAWRENCE BLOCK – The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams. Bernie Rhodenbarr #6. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Onyx, paperback; 1st printing, June 1995.

   It’d been a long time since I’d read a “Bernie,” and a long time since Block had written one. Bernie, the bookloving burglar and bookstore owner, has been all books and no burgle for a while now. He’s even acquired a cat for his Greenwich Village store.

   His dormant flagitious proclivities are re-awakened, however, when a new landlord proposes to raise his rent to stratospheric heights. Before you know it, Bernie has burgled and bumped into a body in a bathroom. He evades detection for this one, but through a series of events too tortuous to detail here, is arrested for another heist, one involving a valuable set of baseball trading cards. And he didn’t do it.

   Block is one of the very few authors (the master is of course Donald Westlake) who can switch voices convincingly. From Matthew Scudder to Bernie Rhodenbarr is a mighty leap, but Block makes it with ease. I’m not familiar enough with earlier “Bernie” books to make comparisons, but I can tell you that the old cast of characters is here — his lesbian friend, his larceny-minded police nemesis, and his jogging lawyer.

   This really isn’t my type of book, but one would have to be illiterate not to realize that Block does it very very well. Not as well as Westlake at his best, I think; there are stretches where Bock seems to get carried away with his own cleverness and takes several pages for scenes that could have been accomplished admirably in one.

   It’s filled with puns and clever writing, though, and has a zanily convoluted plot that will keep you guessing until the end. I enjoyed it, and if I did, those of you who like this sort of romp to begin with are going to absolutely love it.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.