Lawrence Block is such a gifted writer that even a native New Yorker will be fooled into thinking that the Paddington Hotel, described in the opening pages of Burglar in the Rye, is a real institution. Block’s descriptions of this enclave of artists, writers, and rock musicians is thoroughly convincing-although in actuality, the Paddington is a combination of the real-life Chelsea Hotel and Block’s outrageous imagination.
This is Bernie Rhodenbarr’s ninth heist. Bernie is a gentleman burglar who runs a used bookstore in between criminal acts, steals mostly from the rich, and only hurts people when it becomes absolutely necessary.
The Paddington is where Bernie goes to liberate the letters of a reclusive writer named Gulliver Fairborn from a literary agent. Fairborn ‘s resemblance to J.D. Salinger and, of course, the fact that the woman who hired Bernie to steal the letters had an affair with Fairborn when she was a teenager, no doubt lend the book its title. But by the time Bernie gets to the Paddington, the agent has been shot, the letters already liberated-and a cop in the lobby recognizes our favorite burglar from a previous encounter.
Now all Bernie has to do is find out who else wanted those letters badly enough to kill for them. In typical Rhodenbarr tradition, the plot is less interesting than the trappings: the books Bernie reads, the fascinating