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Lawrence Block Locked Room Titles


blockLawrence Block (born June 24, 1938) is an American crime writer best known for two long-running New York–set series about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and the gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. Block was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Lawrence Block attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, but left before graduating. His earliest work, published pseudonymously in the 1950s, was mostly in the porn paperback industry, an apprenticeship he shared with fellow mystery author Donald E. Westlake. The first of his “own” work to appear was the 1957 story “You Can’t Lose.” He has since published more than fifty novels and more than a hundred short stories, as well as a series of books for writers.

Block has lived in New York City for decades, setting most of his fiction there, and has come to be very closely associated with the city. He is married to mystery author Lynne Block, and has three daughters, Amy Reichel, Jill Block and Alison Pouliot, from an earlier marriage. With Lynne, he spends much of his time traveling (the two have been to 135 countries),  but continues to consider New York his home.

Considerable autobiographical information on the earlier phase of his life and career may be found scattered through Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (1981), a collection of his fiction columns from Writer’s Digest.

Block’s most famous creation, the ever-evolving Matthew Scudder, was introduced in 1976’s ‘The Sins of the Fathers’ as an alcoholic ex-cop working as an unlicensed private investigator in Hell’s Kitchen.  Block’s other major series, humorous and much lighter in tone, relates the misadventures of gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. The series is rich in sophisticated, witty dialogue. Unlike Scudder, Rhodenbarr is ageless, remaining essentially the same from 1977’s Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, to the eleventh and most recent entry, 2013’s The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. The only significant advancements come in the third volume, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling (1979, winner of the first annual Nero Award) which sees Bernie having used the spoils from his previous caper to buy a bookstore, and introduces Carolyn Kaiser, his lesbian “soulmate” and partner in crime.

Chip Harrison, who features in one locked room novel, is running on the twin engines of lust and curiosity. He originally appeared in two funny, non-mystery novels which revolved around seventeen-year-old Chip’s obsessive quest to lose his virginity: ‘No Score’ and ‘Chip Harrison Scores Again’. Realizing the series didn’t have much of a future once Chip reached his goal, Block puts Chip to work as an assistant to a Nero Wolfe style private eye, Leo Haig, who raises tropical fish. They appeared in two subsequent, decidedly tongue-in-cheek mystery novels: ‘Make Out With Murder’ and ‘The Topless Tulip Caper’.

In 2005 he was honored with the Gumshoe Lifetime Achievement Award.

Edited from Wikipedia

 

Notes: Lawrence Block & Locked Room

No list of Lawrence Block locked room stories is available, and I have not read many of this prolific author’s work. This list should therefore be considered as preliminary and likely incomplete. If you know of other Block locked room stories and/or novels, that contain locked room or impossible crime plots please let us know on our Good Mystery Facebook page. Thanks.

In one sense, with the exception of ‘The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke’, Lawrence Block is not really a locked room author. In the other Bernie Rhodenbarr stories, the locked room angle is either a subplot, or arises when Bernie breaks into a locked premise, only to discover a body already behind locked doors – making himself the prime suspect. This happens to Bernie Rhodenbarr on a regular basis – but I have only included the cases where the body was already dead when he entered the locked room.

In his Matthew Scudder novels, the locked room plot is never central, instead it is always a subplot, or a temporary appearance. Stiil, for better or worse I have found 10 titles that might be considered locked room or impossible crime plots – at least in part.


Lawrence Block – Matthew Scutter Locked Room Novels


even wickedEven The Wicked (1997) 
Detective: Matthew Scutter

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: Locked room subplot

Matthew Scudder knows that justice is an elusive commodity in the big city, where a harmless man can be shot dead in public and criminals fly free through holes in a tattered legal system. But now a vigilante is roaming among the millions, executing those he feels deserve to die. He calls himself “The Will of the People”—an ingenious serial killer who announces his specific murderous intentions to the media before carrying through on his threats. A child molester, a Mafia don, a violent anti-abortionist—even the protected and untouchable are being ruthlessly erased by New York’s latest celebrity avenger.

Scudder knows that no one is innocent – but who among us has the right to play God? It is a question that will haunt the P.I. on his journey through the bleak city, as he searches for sanity in urban madness …and for a frighteningly efficient killer who can do the impossible.

Not one of the best Scudder mysteries and you have to wait until the fourth murder to get to the locked room plot.


hope dieHope To Die (1975)
Detective: Matthew Scudder

 

Best Review
***

Available in paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: Who killed the killers?

The city caught its collective breath when upscale couple Byrne and Susan Hollander were slaughtered in a brutal home invasion. Now, a few days later, the killers themselves have turned up dead behind the locked door of a Brooklyn hellhole — one apparently slain by his partner in crime – who then took his own life.

Yet there’s something drawing Matthew Scudder to this case that the cops have quickly and eagerly closed: a nagging suspicion that a third man is involved, a cold, diabolical puppet master who manipulates his two accomplices, then cuts their strings when he’s done with them. No one but Scudder even suspects he exists. And his worst fear is that the guy is just getting started …


Lawrence Block – Bernie Rhodenbarr Locked Room Novels


burglars choosersBurglars Can’t Be Choosers (1977)
Detective: Bernie Rhodenbarr

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: Locked in with a body?

Bernie Rhodenbarr is a personable chap, a good neighbor, a passable poker player. His chosen profession, however, might not sit well with some. Bernie is a burglar, a good one, effortlessly lifting valuables from the not-so-well-protected abodes of well-to-do New Yorkers – like a modern-day Robin Hood. (The poor, as Bernie would be the first to tell you, alas, have nothing worth stealing.)

He’s not perfect, however; he occasionally makes mistakes. Like accepting a paid assignment from a total stranger to retrieve a particular item from a rich man’s apartment. Like still being there when the cops arrive. Like having a freshly slain corpse lying in the next room, and no proof that Bernie isn’t the killer.

Now he’s really got his hands full, having to locate the true perpetrator while somehow eluding the police — a dirty job indeed, but if Bernie doesn’t do it, who will?


Burglat WilliamsThe Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (1994)
Detective: Bernie Rhodenbarr 

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: Trying to earn an honest living?

Bernie Rhodenbarr is actually trying to earn an honest living. It’s been an entire year since he’s entered anyone’s abode illegally to help himself to their valuables. But now an unscrupulous landlord’s threat to increase Bernie’s rent by 1,000% is driving the bookseller and reformed burglar back to a life of crime — though, in all fairness, it’s a very short trip. And when the cops wrongly accuse him of stealing a priceless collection of baseball cards, Bernie’s stuck with a worthless alibi since he was busy burgling a different apartment at the time …one that happened to contain a dead body locked inside a bathroom.

So Bernie has a dilemma. He can trade a burglary charge for a murder rap. Or he can shuffle all the cards himself and try to find the joker in the deck – someone, perhaps, who believes that homicide is the real Great American Pastime.

TomCat from Moonlight Detective notes:
I have read all, but three, of the Bernie Rhodenbarr books and thought this was one of the better entries into the series and was only surpassed by The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams (a comedic-caper about valuable baseball cards that also pokes fun at, and alludes to, various mystery writers, from past and present, with a minor locked room sub-plot thrown into the mix.)


burglar ryeThe Burglar In The Rye (1999) 
Detective: Bernie Rhodenbarr 

 

Best Review
****

Available in paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: Another body discovered after entering a locked room!

Block’s addictive series about bookseller/burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr continues as our hero invades the hotel suite of an aged literary agent in search of a cache of letters, by a respected and reclusive writer, that are wanted by people both legitimate and not. As he usually does, Bernie finds a corpse on the other side of the locked door he so neatly opens, and he is immediately suspected of murder by his nemesis, sticky-fingered Ray Kirschmann of the NYPD.


Lawrence Block Other Locked Room Novels


topless tulipThe Topless Tulip Case
Author: Originally as Chip Harrison
Detective: Leo Haig & Chip Harrison

Best Review
****

Available in used paperback, ebook and audible editions.

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Note: An impossible crime?

Edgar Award-winning author Lawrence Block returns with another outrageous caper featuring Chip Harrison …a sleuth who always seems to get into trouble with a capital T! Now a man about town working for a famous detective, Chip Harrison finds himself at a Times Square Club waiting for his latest client, a stripper, to finish a night’s work. When she completes her set, she introduces him to her roommate, a dancer who’s targeted for murder …and impossibly killed in the club right before their very eyes! The list of suspects is as long as the line outside the club, and now it will take all of Chip’s street smarts to trap a killer!  

This series is Block’s pastiche of the Nero Wolfe mysteries.


hit listHit List
Detective: Keller

 

Best Review
***

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Note: Unexplained impossible crimes?

Keller is a regular guy. He goes to the movies and works on his stamp collection. Call him for jury duty and he serves without complaint. Then every so often he gets a phone call from White Plains that sends him flying off somewhere to kill a perfect stranger. Keller is a pro and very good at what he does. But the jobs have started to go wrong. The realization is slow coming, yet, when it arrives, it is irrefutable: Someone out there is trying to hit the hit man. Keller has found his way onto somebody else’s hit list.

Almost a collection of short stories (not unlike ‘Hit Man’ a short story collection from the same series), tied together by several threads, including “Roger,” a shadowy character who appears to be trying to kill Keller, but later begins to fulfill Keller’s contracts before he can finish the job.

The locked room interest evolves from Roger’s increasingly impossible hits. As Onyx reviews notes: ” The crimes become even more outlandish, including one that is televised across America, yet Block never gives the reader the satisfaction of finding out how Roger pulls off these improbable feats. It is one thing for a writer to create a locked room murder—it is yet another to try to convince the reader that how the crime was committed is unimportant and not to be explained.”


Lawrence Block Locked Room Short Stories


night musicOut The Window (2011)
Detective: Matthew Scudder

Collection: The Night and The Music

Best Review

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Note: A nice little locked room story!

Scudder frequents a bar where Paula works. Sometimes she walks through her shift “like a ghost through walls” and has been know to toy with amphetamines. Paula lived on the seventeenth floor, but in the middle the night, she took a swan dive out the window. “They scooped her up with a spatula and a sponge and then they hosed it all down.” With her apartment locked and the chain still on, the cops call it suicide, but her sister doesn’t believe it and hires Scudder to investigate. It’s a great locked room story told with wit and depth. 

This is a very good collection of Scudder short fiction, which includes:

Growing up with Matt Scudder / by Brian Koppelman 
Out the window – novelette
A candle for the bag lady novelette
By the dawn’s early light – Edgar Award
Batman’s helpers 
The merciful angel of death – Shamus Award
The night and the music –  written for a NYC jazz festival program
Looking for David 
Let’s get lost 
A moment of wrong thinking 
Mick Ballou looks at the blank screen – previously only published in a limited edition.
One last night at Grogan’s – a new story 


Big lizard LR mysteriesThe Burglar Who Smelled Smoke
Detective: Bernie Rhodenbarr

Collection: The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries

Locked Room Review

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Note: From part 5 of 8 in our Blogging the Black Lizard review series

‘The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke’ by Lawrence Block and Lynne Wood Block, features Block’s affable thief, Bernie Rhodenbarr. Bernie legitimately sells rare mystery works through his secondhand bookshop, and also augments his income as a part-time burglar. This time Bernie visits an avid collector, Karl Bellerman, trying to sell a rare first edition of Rex Stout’s, Nero Wolfe mystery, Fer-de-Lance (1934) – with an inscription, by the author, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bellerman’s library is a technological wonder with climate control, hidden steel walls, pick proof locks, and a state of the art waterless fire suppression system. Bernie lunches with Bellerman and his attractive wife, Eva, before getting down to business. Bellerman agrees to consider the purchase, leaving Bernie free to amuse himself with his host’s wife for most of the afternoon. However, this little frolic leaves him in an awkward position when Bellerman is found dead – inside his completely impenetrable locked library! A very good solution makes this story a true masterpiece! The basic plot device is obvious quite early – but the actual mechanics of the illusion are quite delicious and surprising!


elvisThe Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis
Detective: Bernie Rhodenbarr

Collection: Enough Rope

Amazon Customer Reviews

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Note: Bernie’s impossible heist!

Another Bernie Rhodenbarr short story – first appeared in April 1990, Playboy.  Not exactly a locked room mystery, but close enough! Bernie is on the job in Memphis, enlisted by a supermarket tabloid to obtain photos of Elvis’s off-limits bedroom on the second floor of Graceland – and he leaves everyone wondering how he bypassed the incredible security and apparently walked through walls. It was simply impossible! Not as good as ‘The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke’, which has already been read by nearly every locked room fan, but still a good tale!

Sold as an ebook and also included in ‘Enough Rope’, another great collection of Block short fiction, from all his series – except Scudder. With ‘Enough Rope’ and ‘The Night and The Music’, you will have all the important Block short fiction.


Lawrence Block Bibliography


Locked Room 101: The Masters


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