Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Bernie Rhodenbarr has bought himself a used bookstore in New York's Greenwich Village but he is tempted back to his previous employment as a burglar. He steals  a very rare book length poem by Rudyard Kipling but his client's female go-between drugs him and when he wakes up he has a gun in his hand the police are at the door and the go-between is dead.

I read The Burglar who liked to Quote Kipling, which won the Nero Wolfe Award back in 1979, very quickly as it is easy to read and was intended as lightweight comedic  escapism between heavier stuff. I must say I enjoyed the book especially the bright first person narrative and the sharp dialogue between Bernie and his lesbian soulmate Carolyn Kaiser. 

"You like felafel?"
"I went to that place on the corner of Broadway and Twelfth. I can't figure out whether the owner's an Arab or an Israeli."

The book turned out to be more complex and involved than at first glance and of course Rudyard Kipling is not the most politically correct of writers. He was a man of his time and wrote these lines:

Your new caught sullen peoples
Half-devil and half-child
Take up the White Man's Burden
in patience to abide
to veil the threat of terror
and check the show of pride. 

That was written in 1899 and referred to the American's responsibilities in the newly conquered Philippines . 
The novel ends with an amusing pastiche of a Golden Age mystery  and the book also contains a dig at rival/friend? Richard Stark's Parker novels, one of which Bernie is reading.

I moved the paperback out of sight as my visitor approached the counter. After all, antiquarian booksellers have an image to protect. We're not supposed to read trash.

Next time I feel like a break from the 'serious' I can do a lot worse than read another Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery.


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