Bookseller and part-time burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr has learned of a dream come true for mystery lovers: the existence of a copy of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep autographed by the author to none other than Dashiell Hammett. Knowing the book is at Cuttleford House, an olde English Inn in upstate New York, he plans to combine business with pleasure by bringing his ladylove and dedicated anglophile Lettice Runcible to the inn for a weekend of lovemaking as well.

Sadly, Ms. Runcible can't make it-she's getting married that weekend-so Bernie brings good pal Carolyn Kaiser instead. They arrive during a blizzard and to their surprise, the inn is peopled with an English colonel, an elderly lady, a bratty child...characters straight out of a book. Soon the roads are closed, the telephone lines are cut, and access to and from the inn is shut down.

Bernie isn't concerned, for the inn is delightful and he has work to do (there are thousands of books in the library). But before you can say "The Mousetrap," a murder occurs. And then another, and another. It is up to the intrepid Bernie to solve the crimes and prevent the remaining guests from learning his true business at Cuttleford House.

The phenomenal Lawrence Block has outdone himself with this delectable English manor mystery, providing a high quality puzzle that his fans have come to expect. Bernie is one of the more irresistible characters in crime fiction, taking his place with other celebrated thieves like Arsene Lupin and Raffles. Hat's off to Mr. Block, one of today's most entertaining writers. (July, 352 pp., $5.99)

Reviewed by: 
Toby Bromberg