Another Dern Not-Quite-A-Review: Lawrence Block’s “The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown”

The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown by Lawrence Block

By Daniel Dern: As a fan of both Lawrence Block and Fredric Brown (their stories and books, that is), I was intrigued and ready-to-be-excited by an announcement back in August 2022, which I saw I-don’t-remember-where and then here in File770, in Item #2, about Block’s then-upcoming novel, The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown (which I’ll now refer to as TBWMFB), Block’s thirteenth book about bookseller/burglar (or vice versa) Bernie Rhodenbarr.

(Cavil/Quibble/Note: Thirteenth book but twelfth novel, because Block’s previous Rhodenbarr, The Burglar In Short Order, is a (highly enjoyable) collection of short stories about Bernie.)

This is intended to be a spoilers-free write-up. (If you’ve read or otherwise know the underlying gimmick — I’m not sure it qualifies as a MacGuffin — in Fredric Brown’s What Mad Universe, then you already have a non-unreasonable expectation of what happens early on, but Block takes it in a different tone and direction from Brown, and since it’s the premise, not a spoiler anyway IMHO.)

I’ll start with my opinions/recommendations, rather than leave them to the end. Arguably much of what’s after this list is snakes-hands; it’s definitely more about Lawrence Block (and why and what I recommend reading his stuff) than TBWMFB.

(1) I enjoyed The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. I’ve read all the previous Bernie The Burglar books, although, other than …In Short Order, probably none more recently than a decade or more ago. I’ve read lots of Lawrence Block; over half a dozen re-re-read. I’ve read a fair amount of Fredric Brown — lots of the sf stories, in the sf magazines and anthologies and collections as I grew up, some recently.

(2) If you’ve read at least a few of Block’s previous Bernie books, odds are pretty good you’ll like The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. This Bernie book is different from previous ones, so if it turns out to not be your cup of tea (or klava, for Steven Brust Vlad Taltos-verse fans), click here for 50% of your time back. (Not responsible for ripple-effect changes.)

(3) If you’ve read other Block but not his Burglar books (though this seems unlikely), ditto — but I suggest you read one or two of those first, to meet the characters first. The Burglar In Short Order should suffice; more won’t hurt.

(4) If you haven’t read any Block, (a) see (3) above and, (b) good news, Block’s got LOTS of great reads. My favorites include the John Keller Hit Man series (five books – note, many parts show up, particularly in e-form, as individual stories. Best read in order. Note to author: More Keller, please!); the Evan Tanner books (in particular, I commend the first, and also the currently-last Tanner On Ice, which has an sf-adjacent not-quite-a-MacGuffin a la Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer (but no cat), in particular); the Ehrengraf for the Defense collection(s?); his other story collections; and his non-fiction collections (his stamp collector columns, and The Crime of Our Lives (essays and anecdotes). (I’m also fond of A Random Walk, which is perhaps arguably sf or adjacentish.)

There are many reasons to enjoy and savor reading Block. The characters, perfect-timing zinger endings, the New York City bits, and the prose itself, including, like Donald Westlake, drop-in bits that may or may not serve the movement or character, but are simply delightful. (The Westlake one that comes to mind is from one of his Dortmunder stories, inventorying the passengers in a goonmobile, including “stately, plump Buck Mulligan.” (Also used, with more context, in Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely’s superb All-Star Superman run.)

Ed Gorman nailed it, in his introduction to the Hard Case edition of Block’s Borderline (although it feels like I read it in some other essay/intro collection: “A long time ago I said that Lawrence Block writes the best sentences in the business. I don’t see any reason to change my mind.” (Possibly I’d read Gorman’s original remark. I’d thought it was said by Stephen King, but the web says it was Ed Gorman; who am I to disagree?) Some of my favorite places are from Block’s John Keller stories; somehow, for example, the beginning of Keller’s Designated Hitter. I can’t explain it, but I know when I’m enjoying prose as it goes.

(4) If you haven’t (yet) read any Fredric Brown, tsk! but that’s not an impediment to reading The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown. (I subsequently reread Brown’s What Mad Universe, and stand by my opinion.)

Where to get TBWMFG:

I read the paperback, courtesy of my library (also available as an e-book), a belated several months ago. (My fault, I’d gronked my initial library reservation.) So I’m very belatedly getting back to this write-up.)

For serious fans/collectors; Subterranean Press is doing a deluxe signed-and-limited hardcover, scheduled for release October 1, 2023. I can’t see (from listings) whether there are any “extras.” (Note, many of Block’s e-book versions include essays, bio info, photos, etc. — worth checking out via HooplaDigital or Libby library borrows!)

And there’s an audiobook, available through various sources.

This is probably as good a place as any to mention some places to get your Fredric Brown. NESFA Press has two Brown collections (in paper and/or e-book): From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown, and Martians and Madness: The Complete SF Novels of Fredric Brown. E-library-wise, HooplaLibby, and OverDrive (which has been replaced by Libby, but this search may burp up different results than Libby’s).

Plus there are numerous non-SF reprints/collections, from various publishers, many in your library’s physical stacks, bookstores, and your friends’ shelves.

CLEARING THROAT AGAIN. Before I launch into talking about The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown one more note (for now), and one disclaimer:

  • Bernie Rhodenbarr doesn’t actually meet Fredric Brown in TBWMFB. (To be fair, while none of the previous titles make similar “met” claims, Bernie doesn’t meet any of the other title-name-dropped people.)
  • This write-up isn’t really a review, by my definition. (In case you haven’t yet figured that out from the title or the text so far.)

BLOCK AND/OR SF: Unlike Fredric Brown, who wrote a fair amount of SF alongside a lot of crime/mystery/detective stuff, Lawrence Block, like Donald Westlake, John D. MacDonald, and others, has only a few excursions into or dalliances with sf.

(I don’t consider Tanner On Ice to be sf in any way, and I’m not sure how to categorize A Random Walk, but IMHO it’s not genre sf. That doesn’t stop me from periodically re-reading either of these books, but it makes me mildly curious where my town’s library — which has separate-from-general-fiction zones for mystery/crime, sf/fantasy, and romance — would file it.)

Conveniently, Janet Rudolph got deets straight from the author’s mouth (or email, in her interview cited in Item #2 of File770’s August 23, 2023 scroll, her “An ‘Impertinent’ Interview with Lawrence Block” at Mystery Fanfare. Talking with Block about TBWMFB:

You ever write any SF?

I had a story in a magazine, Science Fiction Stories, in 1959, and it was chosen for Judith Merril’s best-of-the-year collection. And in 1984 Fantasy & Science Fiction ran “The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds.”

But there’s no doubting that (like Stephen King), Block knows and enjoys sf. Here’s Block’s post about Fredric Brown.

And here’s Block’s comments-and-preview excerpt blog post The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown—a preview! — enough to help you decide whether to read the book.

Where Brown’s What Mad Universe is a mix of grim plot and cultural satire, TBWMFB is (give or take Bernie The Burglar’s inevitable caper-turning-into-having-to-solve-a-murder-he’s-blamed-for) a romp, where characters and author are clearly having fun. And, hopefully, so will you.

IN SCROLLS TO COME: Block, and Westlake, both have non-fiction collections of various articles, essays, book introductions, correspondence, etc. (including some about each other, they worked in the Scott Meredith Agency contemporaneously or near, and were good friends. I’m brooding about a post on these books; they’re informative, engaging, and entertaining — and it’s interesting to hear them speaking directly, as themselves, rather than through a narrator or character.

Pixel Scroll 8/23/22 Another Hulkling, Another Skrull

(1) GENRE SQUEAKS IN. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] Amazingly, there actually is one genre book on the Deutscher Buch Preis (German Book Prize) longlist, which is quite unusual for this award, which tends to go to family sagas with historical background or novels about rootless young people in the big city.

The novel in question is Auf See (At Sea) by Theresia Enzensberger, which tells the story of a woman who grows up in a floating city in the Baltic Sea that was founded by her father, a tech billionaire to escape the chaos on shore. Alas, the floating city is declining and the protagonist worries that she might be succumbing to the same mystery disease as her late mother.

The 20-book longlist is here. The winner receives prize money of €25,000 (US$24,855). The five finalists each receive €2,500 (US$2,485). The shortlist will be released September 20.

(2) LET ME INTERRUPT YOU. “An ‘Impertinent’ Interview with Lawrence Block” at Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare includes a few sff moments.

And here you are with another book—

The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown.

—and another plug for another title, sheesh, what is it with you? Never mind, don’t answer that. Fredric Brown. Sensational writer, a whole lot better than you, and equally at home in science fiction and mystery. You ever write any SF?

I had a story in a magazine, Science Fiction Stories, in 1959, and it was chosen for Judith Merril’s best-of-the-year collection. And in 1984 Fantasy & Science Fiction ran “The Boy Who Disappeared Clouds.”

Two stories twenty-five years apart. Doesn’t exactly put you up there with Sturgeon and Asimov, does it?

I never said—

(3) BOFFO HOME BOX OFFICE. “House of the Dragon recorded HBO’s biggest premiere of all time” reports The Independent.

HBO has revealed that the first episode of its Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon recorded the network’s biggest premiere of all time.

Warner Bros Discovery said that the show recorded approximately 9.9 million views on Sunday (21 August) night in the US alone….

(4) HOW TO COOK A DIREWOLF. “Chicago Chef Iliana Regan Didn’t Just Cook Fine Dining — She Cooked Fanfiction” explains Eater’s Rachel P. Kreiter.

The first time I went to a Game of Thrones dinner at the restaurant Elizabeth, the room was decked out in banners bearing ancestral sigils, while dozens of vinyl figurines were stuffed into every possible gap and onto every ledge. It was April 2017, a seventh season of the show would air in a couple of months, and a friend had come to Chicago to attend this dinner with me, not because we loved Game of Thrones — neither of us had watched for years at that point — but because the idea of a fannish dinner was exciting.

Before each of 10 courses, the staff explained the source or inspiration for everything that was served. We had the “black bread” that is mentioned repeatedly in the novels the TV series is based on. (This version was dyed with squid ink.) It was served with accompaniments, one of which was an asparagus relish; at another table, the server was explaining how he’d seen the chef arranging the asparagus on her bread like dragon scales while testing out the recipe.

If courses were inspired by something exact, the servers mentioned its scene of origin: After Catelyn Stark arrests Tyrion Lannister at an inn, she dines on onions dripping in juices, and we got the same. (The plating of these was vaguely scale-like, too.) Within a three-part course that reflected the seafaring Iron Islands culture, one dish, squid “noodles,” was a subtle nod toward the sigil of the local ruling family. Another Iron Islands dish, clams in a dashi broth, was inspired by a particular line in the fourth book of five currently published: “Aeron broke his fast on a broth of clams and seaweed cooked above a driftwood fire.” These citations were delivered in the same breath as the ingredient sources: This cheese is from Indiana, and that amuse-bouche draws on a description of tables laid with strawberries and sweetgrass.

The chef, Iliana Regan, has seemingly never done anything half-assed or half-hearted in her life; obviously she owns a small army of Game of Thrones dolls, and if she was bothering to cook a menu about it, there was going to be a chest of handmade dragon eggs next to the duck press near the kitchen….

(5) HANDMADE. Geek Tyrant introduces fans to “Impressively Detailed Sci-Fi Mecha Cardboard Art By Greg Olijnyk”.

…One of his pieces is titled David v G 2.0, which is a Mecha meets samurai meets bible story. It’s a retelling of David and Goliath. Each of his creations below comes with a little note about what his goal was for each piece.

(6) HEADED FOR CHICAGO? Just a reminder about the availability of a great resource, “Neil’s Native Guide, Chicon 8 Edition”.

This compendium is for members of Chicon, who are only in town for a few days, with hours or half-days (or empty stomachs!) to fill, so “here” is the Hyatt Regency on East Wacker (city center map  We’re part of Illinois Center on the south side of the mouth of the river.). Except for Hyde Park (Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago, site of the first nuclear “pile”, site of 1893 Columbian Exposition), marked with the Ferris Wheel, I’ve tried to restrain myself from things more than a couple of miles from the Loop. Alas, no Nazi submarine  [2]  [3], PullmanGarfield Park Conservatory, or Green Mill (fortunately, Ric Addy’s tour of the basement is on YouTube [2]).

(7) LANSDALE INTERVIEW. [Todd Mason.] And a good one, though you can pretty much ignore that pre-i/v intro. The interviewer does like to ask Tell Me About Your Journey questions of Creatives. “’The Family That Creates Together…’ Writer Joe Lansdale & Singer Kasey Lansdale” in The Hollywood AWAC Podcast with Host Bill Thill.

Host Bill Thill sits down with writer Joe R. Lansdale (“Hap And Leonard”, “Cold In July”, “The Bottoms”, Etc.) And Kasey Lansdale to discuss their recent collaboration writing their new book, “Terror Is Our Business”. This talented father-daughter duet chat about the creative process and what it takes to build a life less ordinary while pursuing creative endeavors.

(8) POPULARIZING SPACE EXPLORATION. At Dreams of Space, scans of Wernher Von Braun’s fictionalized portrayal of what “5 Days on the Moon” would really be like. From This Week, March 8, 1959.

“5 Days on the Moon” by Wernher Von Braun and illustrated by Fred Freeman.  These are hard to find. I am still looking for a copy of part 2.  

(While we’re aware of Von Braun’s V-2 program in WW2 and use of slave labor there, this item is linked as an example of how a vision for Moon exploration was set in American mass media just a few years before the real thing.)

(9) THE HORROR. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] If Winnie the Pooh can get a horror adaptation, why not Pretty Woman? “Popular Movies That Need Horror Adaptations”, a list by Buzzfeed’s Jeremy Hayes. For example:

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

The original is a Christmas classic, but this horror adaptation would focus on the elements at the movie’s end when George Bailey wishes he was never born. There’s an opportunity for a thought-provoking thriller with dark and supernatural elements. Imagine Clarence as a dark angel instead of George’s guardian angel.

My horror movie description: A man’s life falls into chaos after an angel makes it so he was never born.

The closest film comparison: The Forgotten


2014 [By Cat Eldridge.] Peter Capaldi began his reign as the Twelfth Doctor in “Deep Breath” which featured just a brief cameo from Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. It was a crowded affair as his Companion, Clara Oswald as played by Jenna Coleman, was there, as was Neve as Madame Vastra and Catrin Stewart as her wife Jenny Flint and Dan Starkey as Santoran Strax. 

Partly without a working memory, a common theme with newly regenerated Doctors and one I’d dearly love to know why, he takes on The Faceless One. No more shall I say to skip the bother of posting SPOILER WARNINGS! 

Now how was Capaldi as a Doctor? I liked his spiky, brusque and acerbic take on the Doctor and there were episodes that I must say were absolutely stellar. The take off Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express titled “Mummy on the Orient Express” and the heist story “Time Heist” was one of the best Who stories even told. “Twice Upon a Time” where he meets the First Doctor was amazing. 

His relationships with Clara Oswald and Bill Potts I thought was written well. The Third Companion, Nardole, really not so much. That’s not his fault that at least for me Nardole didn’t work. 

I hold that he was smart, inventive and unlike most incarnations of the Doctors save the Fourth and the Seventh, he had a touch of sarcasm running through him. Subtle at times, not at all subtle other times. Not a bad thing to have, I’d say. 

Some of his episodes got nominated for Hugos — “Listen” at Sasquan, “Heaven Sent” at MidAmeriCon II, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” at Worldcon 75 and “Twice Upon a Time” at Worldcon 76. None alas won.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born August 23, 1868 Edgar Lee Masters. Author of the Spoon River Anthology which, since each poem is by someone who’s dead, should count as genre, shouldn’t it?  Well, I think so even if you don’t, so there. (Died 1950.)
  • Born August 23, 1927 Peter Wyngarde. Not a lead actor in any genre series but interesting nonetheless. For instance, he shows up in the two Sherlock Holmes series, one with Peter Cushing and one with Jeremy Brett. He’s in a series of Doctor Who with the Fifth Doctor and he faces off against the classic Avenger pairing of Steed and Peel. He shows up as Number Two in The Prisoner as well. (Died 2018.)
  • Born August 23, 1929 Vera Miles, 93. Lila Crane in Psycho which she reprised in Psycho II. On a much more family friendly note, she’s Silly Hardy in Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle, the very last of the twelve Tarzan pictures released by RKO. She has done one-offs on Buck Rogers in Twentieth CenturyFantasy Island, The Twilight ZoneAlfred Hitchcock PresentsI Spy and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 
  • Born August 23, 1931 Barbara Eden, 91. Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie. Her first genre role however was on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea as Lt. Cathy Connors though she’d show up a few years later as Greta Heinrich on The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. And let’s not forget Barbara Eden’s role in The Brass Bottle, a 1964 film where she’s the girlfriend of a guy who is played Tony Randall who finds a troublemaking genie who was portrayed by Burl Ives. Some thirty-five years after I Dream of Jeannie went off the air, she had a recurring role as Aunt Irma on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
  • Born August 23, 1944 Karl Alexander. Author of Time after Time which when filmed was directed and written by Nicholas Meyer. Cast included Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen and David Warner. (A thirteen-episode series would happen in 2017.) His sequel of Jaclyn the Ripper is not as well known, nor is his Time-Crossed Lovers novel. (Died 2015.)
  • Born August 23, 1965 Chris Bachalo, 57. Illustrator well-known for his work on DC Comics’ Shade, the Changing Man and Gaiman’s two Death series, Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life
  • Born August 23, 1970 River Phoenix. The Young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was his best known genre role. He was also Wolfgang Müller in Explorers, and he’s Talbot Roe in Silent Tongue, a horror film most likely you’ve never heard of. (Died 1993.)
  • Born August 23, 1990 Jessica Lee Keller, 32. Lauren, Elise’s Best Friend, in The Adjustment Bureau from Philip K. Dick’s “Adjustment Team” story. She also shows up in LuciferTerror Birds and 12-24 where IMDB describes her as the One Tit Zombie. (CE) 

(12) SF REFERENCES, TOO. In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna profiles Tom Batiuk, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Funky Winkerbean,” one of the few daily strips where the characters age in real time. “How ‘Funky Winkerbean’ became the darkest strip on the comics pages”.

…“I started out writing about kids in high school who worry about trying to get a date and climbing the rope in gym class,” says the “Funky Winkerbean” creator this month by Zoom from Medina, Ohio. “Now, I’m writing about going to financial seminars and getting colonoscopies and playing pickleball.”…

(13) BOOK AUCTION ONLINE WEDNESDAY. Matt of Bookpilled is having another classic book auction Wednesday, August 24. “Whatnot – Vintage SF & Fantasy Masterpieces Livestream by thriftalife”. From what Matt calls a “Painfully Good Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Haul That I Can’t Keep”. The video previews some of the gems.

(14) MOON HOAX NEWS. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Washington Post, Dave Kindy discusses the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, in which readers of the New York Sun were thrilled by a series about creatures on the Moon until they discovered the series was sf written by Sun reporter Richard Adams Locke. “Great Moon Hoax of 1835 convinced the world of extraterrestrial life”.

…The Sun ran six articles on the discoveries over the course of a week beginning on Aug. 25, 1835. The stories included amazing descriptions of life on the moon, as viewed through an enormous telescope with “hydro-oxygen” lenses built by Herschel at an observatory on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

According to the Sun, the articles were reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science in Scotland. In them, Grant wrote about golden temples and a ruby coliseum built by VespertilioHomo, a Latin name meaning “bat-man,” which was given to the humanoids populating the moon.

He also reported how “some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum.” Apparently, these winged humans liked to share intimate moments in public — presumably of a sexual nature…

(15) DIFFERENT ENDING TACKED ON. The New York Times reveals “In China’s Version of ‘Minions’ Movie, Morality Triumphs”. BEWARE SPOILERS.

 The bright yellow creatures known as Minions have caused plenty of chaos on movie screens. When their latest film, “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” opened in China last Friday, censors decided to impose some law and order.

In the original version, the film’s two main villains make a bold escape, unpunished. But on Chinese social media, photographs of what appeared to be a jarringly different epilogue stitched into the credits section soon began to circulate widely.

According to that epilogue, one of the villains got a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes, while the other became an attentive father of three, in what some saw as a nod to China’s policy of encouraging higher birthrates.

(16) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In “Honest Trailers: Minions: The Rise of Gru,” the Screen Junkies say that “Everyone will be dumber for having seen it. But I award it all the points and may God make Minions of us all.”  Now that Pixar has cornered the market in depressing your kids, the Minions film delivers fart jokes, ‘Silly Minion gibberish,” and ancient Boomer references that are too old for your parents (remember Don Rickles?)

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Rob Thornton, Todd Mason, BGrandrath, Neil Rest, Andrew Porter, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]