“Every passion is interesting to him who suffers from it. And one sometimes feels impelled to inflict it on others.” That could be the motto of this book. I suspect, that in addition to stamps, of which we learn a great deal in the Keller series, Block is enamored of political buttons and hoards of historical trivia. Did you know that Vermont had been a republic that had issued its own coinage? From 1777 to 1791, it was, when it split off from New York, when the colonies revolted and Vermont decide to revolt against New York. Its independence was recognized by New York in 1791 when it then decided to join the United States as the Fourteenth. State, especially after it was not permitted to join Quebec.
I mention this only because there are substantial passages in the book where the man who hires Bernie to steal a couple of things related to buttons, goes on at some length about various things. Now, it so happens, that I enjoy learning about stamps and buttons and other little arcane facts such as William Howard Taft being known as Billy Possum and Eugene Debs running for office while being incarcerated for his opposition to WW I so his buttons had imprinted on them, “For President: Convict No. 9563.” Fascinating. Not to mention the Apostles spoons.
We all love the Bernie Rhodenbarr series of books. Bernie, you may remember, owns a used book store, but steals things on the side. It’s quite interesting. I’ve listened to Block read his books, and there is a certain rhythm and cadence that I feel when I’m reading them, not unpleasant, just uniquely his style.
There’s one passage that I just have to quote. Bernie has been approached by a customer and they begin discussing first editions of Gatsby. They conclude precisely what I feel about the book.
<i>“The Great American novel? No, hardly that. The puzzle of Gatsby is how so many otherwise perceptive people can find so much to admire in it. Do you know why Jay Gatsby is such an enigma? It’s because Fitzgerald himself never had a clue who the fellow was. An arriviste, a parvenu, an upstart if you will, a man who made big money in a hurry and got his hands just a little dirty in the process. Hardly a rarity at the time, and there was a fellow in Boston with a similar story who got his son elected to the White House. Fitzgerald didn’t know what to make of Gatsby, and the literary establishment has responded by enshrining his bafflement. So no, I don’t think much of Gatsby, or your Mr. Fitzgerald.” </i>
The plot revolves around a short story written by Alexander Roda Roda (not to mention puns on Doran Doran and Meyer Meyer not to be confused with Meyer Meyers) and published several years before Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” appeared in Collier’s magazine yet the premise of the story was the same, an individual is born old and then gets gradually younger. But the key is on his name.
Bibliophiles and trivialists will certainly enjoy this book especially. Five stars for a great story with lots of trivia. Two stars for those people who will get bogged down by the detailed information. So 3.5 stars rounded off to 4.
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