Block, Lawrence: Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, The

Another early Lawrence Block book, The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep. This is the first Evan Tanner novel, and as the title suggests, a head injury in the Korean War means that Tanner doesn’t sleep. He spends his time reading, learning, and writing people’s theses and dissertations for them to earn money. He is also a hopeless devotee of lost causes. From a conversation with a girlfriend and a thesis he’s writing, he puts together a plan to recover $3 million in hidden gold from Armenia.

It’s a daft premise, but an amusing one, though the books aren’t humorous the way the Bernie ones are. Alas, this was another example of books being wrong for people through no fault of their own: Tanner’s hopeless causes include things like the Flat Earth Society, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Libertarian League—but also include the Society for a Free Croatia, the Serbian Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, etc., etc., and he ends up calling on most of them to get across Europe. At one point he talks of intending to bestow some of the gold on the IRA (despite a Republican sympathizer telling him “You’ll want to think that over. What would those bloody fools do with so much gold? They’d be after blowing up all of Belfast, and all be getting into trouble”), and at another he unwittingly foments a short-lived revolution in Macedonia.

This is not exactly the kind of thing I was looking to read about. (I’d decided to save the re-reads of the other Liaden books for when the next one came out.)

There were several Tanner books written in the 1960s, and then another one a few years ago; I might pick up the most recent, but probably not for a while.

[Addendum: I picked this up to bring it back to the library and noticed the back cover copy. Boy, who writes these things? Unlike No Score, this at least gets the genre right, but it was apparently written by someone who’d never actually read the book. “Smuggling [a ravishing blonde] across the border of her native country”? I don’t think the girlfriend is even mentioned again after Tanner decides to go after the gold; she certainly doesn’t come with him.]

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  1. This is not exactly the kind of thing I was looking to read about.
    I can understand that. On the other hand, I’d say that picking up the recent Tanner book without reading any others would be a mistake.
    Personally, I would suggest that you read Tanner’s Twelve Swingers — the best of the series, and the most lighthearted in its mayhem. Apart from a brief return to Macedonia in the beginning, I can’t think of anything that would trigger the reactions you describe above. It’s a funnier book, a sillier plot, and a tricky puzzle — as I say, the best of the series. Whether you like it or not, you might want to stop there.
    On no account read The Cancelled Czech or Me Tanner, You Jane.
    David Tate

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