Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep (Lawrence Block, 1966)

Unusual globetrotting espionage/adventure. Not the biggest fan of those genres myself so at least I'm assuming it's a bit unusual to have a protagonist who cannot sleep (so he learns languages and manically reads) and writes other people's master thesis for living.

On one of these job assignments he comes across an old Armenian woman and over a few cups of coffee (Armenian coffee: hot as hell, black as sin, and sweet as love) she unveils to him the long lost secret of gold that Armenian people had stashed away during the Turkish massacre during the WWI. In no time at all Tanner decides that many of the freakish societies across the world (whose member he is) could benefit from some big ass donations. So he promptly applies for the passport and sets for the treasure hunt.

Sounds much more conventional than it actually is. You see, our hero starts six international incidents, is hunted by several state's secret polices and few sinister organizations ("I know you're hotter than a grenade with the pin out") in a chase that begins in Ireland, goes all the way southeast through Europe to Bulgaria and ends in Lebanon. Along the way Tanner fucks a couple of hot girls, runs into a bunch of odd (even by his high standard of oddness) characters, sparks a minor revolution attempt in Macedonia and somehow obtains complete dossier of the British air and coastal defenses (which btw cannot be very strong since the whole thing is pretty thin). When taking into account that this paperback is 200 pages long, it actually feels like it was written by some mad man on amphetamines (who couldn't sleep?)

But it's not bad at all. It's funny and I liked the fact that it didn't take itself serious at all. Tanner in no way tries to emulate James Bond type of agent. Cold war doesn't play no role here (I don't think this term was ever mentioned) and his goals are pretty modest as he certainly doesn't try to prevent some shit like nuclear attack or WW3 - turns out that his loot was worth mere $371,520 (according to this website this would amount to 2.6 million today). Also worth mentioning is that Block doesn't mock exotic (by American standards I guess) countries and bore us (and maybe himself too) with American patriotism. He actually did his research pretty thorough and we learn an interesting fact or two about those "exotic" places (though I think he exaggerated a bit about Irish hospitality).

Silly charming nonsense. I guess it still qualifies as a cosy crime but I liked it better than Block's silly Bernie Rhodenbarr crap. But I don't think I'll check anything else from the Tanner series. Unless you can recommend me a good one?



Evan Michael Tanner or Ivan Mikhail Tanner according to the Radio Moscow

Turkey, Ireland (from Shannon airport to Limerick to a nearby village Croon to Dublin), Madrid, Grenoble, Italy (Venice, Udine), Yugoslavia (Ljubljana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Tetovo), Sofia, Balikesir and then 800 miles two day drive to the southeast town of Antakya, crossing Syria and finishing in Lebanon and then flying (finally!) back to Washington.

Body count
one secret agent + many casualties of Macedonian revolution

Nora, Irish gal + Annalya, Macedonian woman. Tanner fucks them both. Nora is simply lonely (who wouldn't be in Croom?) and horny, but Annalya has deeper reasons for seducing our hero. When she comes, she ecstatically yells: "A son! Give me a son for Macedonia!" Hilarious stuff, we need more horny revolutionaries!

Nope, not even sure if a guy who cannot sleep can black out. But there was a scene where Tanner pretended to be unconscious when double-crossing bastard of the Society of the Left Hand stroke him with a tire wrench.

No nuclear physics required to decipher this one: Tanner is a thief and he cannot sleep.

Pretty standard and not very imaginative one. Cannot figure out what that green shit in the background is.

First time on this blog: 
My hometown - Ljubljana in Slovenia - is mentioned. Which is cool, but even cooler is that it also takes place in Dublin, where I live these days.

Cool lines:  
Some pretty bizarre (and funny?) insults from the prison guard Mustafa. Looks like this asshole has some sort of animalistic Oedipus complex:

- Your mother loves to perform fellatio upon syphilitic dogs.[The Coolest!]

- Your mother spreads herself for camels.
- Your mother was blinded by gonorrhea.


  1. Great review.

    Love that you cover the same "Facts" about all the books.

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it. I kind of ripped off the whole facts concept (or let's say I was inspired by:)) from the phenomenal Seagalogy written by Vern. Hilarious stuff, cannot recommended it enough.