The Burglar in Short Order, by Lawrence Block…plus a comment about reviewers

Perhaps you are familiar with Lawrence Block’s oeuvre. If so, you’ll think you know what the title of this book means: it must be the latest in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, and Bernie must be taking a job in a diner as a short-order cook.


Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

Yes, it’s the latest in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, but the title has nothing to do with short-order cooks. It just means that this book is a collection of short stories, not a novel!

OK, now that we’ve got that straight, what kind of stories are these? With many authors you can tell the genre as soon as you see the author’s name, but not with the extraordinarily prolific Larry Block. More often than not—but very far from all the time—he writes mysteries, including this humorous series featuring a “gentleman burglar” who owns a used-bookstore, another serious series featuring an alcoholic detective, and much more. Block is known for his exceptionally transparent Asimovian writing style, which he also teaches in his advice to other writers.

Unsurprisingly, this collection is a bit uneven. It consists of a wide variety of short stories in the Burglar series—some very short indeed. Part of the reason for the wide variety is that the stories were originally published in all sorts of places, primarily magazines. There’s also an essay, and a conversation between Bernie and Block. Everything is great fun, and you don’t have to demand A-level work for every story. Maybe some day we can get Bernie the Attorney, in which he pretends to be a lawyer—right? (A burglar becoming a lawyer? Why not?) Then one of his clients could sing a song about him.

But I digress. I had promised a comment about other reviewers. Now I wish I could find this particular review that I was reading, but it perfectly exemplified what drives me crazy about some reviewers. Instead of discussing what the author was trying to it—and telling us how successful they were or were not—some people criticize a work for what it isn’t. They tell us that the author should have written new stories instead of reprinting already-published ones, or that he should have written a novel instead. Grrr.

Categories: Books