Most mystery novelists would give their writing hand to have just one successful series. At last count, Edgar Award-winning author Lawrence Block has three a number of cloak-and-dagger espionage novels starring libidinous secret agent Evan Tanner; a darker group of suspense stories featuring alcoholic ex-cop Matthew Scudder; and the whimsical tales of Mrs. Rhodenbarr's favorite son Bernie, a bookstore owner who moonlights as a cat burglar. Ever the opportunist, Bernie is constantly on the lookout for the unguarded bauble, the unbolted door.

A chance encounter with lovely (and lively) Alice Cottrell affords him the opportunity for some nourishing larceny. It seems Alice is the one-time lover of legendary writer-recluse Gulliver Fairborn, whose Nobody's Angel was the coming-of-age novel of its generation. At the tender age of 14, Alice moved in with Fairborn, a free spirit some 20 years her senior. Three years later, inexplicably, Fairborn disappeared, his only contact with the outside world an occasional letter and manuscript sent to his literary agent, one Anthea Landau. If these letters could be obtained, they would be worth a small fortune. Or so Alice says . . .

Shortly afterward, in another part of Manhattan, one Jeffrey Peters, aka Peter Jeffries, aka Bernie Rhodenbarr, picks the locks of Anthea Landau's apartment. To Bernie's chagrin, the agent lies dead in her bed freshly dispatched, judging by the aroma of gunpowder in the closed room. A pounding at the door convinces our intrepid intruder that he must make good his getaway.

Sadly, Bernie is not as quick of foot as of wit. He is apprehended in mid-escape, and cuffed and dragged downtown to be arraigned for murder. Things take a turn for the weird when the lovely Alice turns out to be one Karen Kassenmeier, a professional thief . . . and get weirder still when the body of Karen Kassenmeier turns up on the floor of Bernie's apartment. Red herrings abound, everyone has a secret (or two, or three), and nothing is what it seems. With the constabulary breathing down his neck, Bernie must extract the proverbial hare from his Homburg, and pronto.

The Burglar in the Rye, the ninth in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, has a healthy dose of irreverent humor, a classic gather-all-the-suspects-in-one-room climax, and of course more twists than Lombard Street.

Bruce Tierney is a writer, songwriter, and art dealer.

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