Sunday, 22 March 2020
LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE THIEF WHO COULDN'T SLEEP (1966)
Introducing EVAN TANNER—the first series character created by Lawrence Block, bestselling author of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES...
Ever since a shred of shrapnel did a number on his brain’s sleep center, Evan Tanner has been awake 24/7. This gives him more time than your average underachiever. Time to learn the world’s languages (he’s fluent in Basque, but has trouble with Chinese). Time to embrace the world’s lost causes and irredentist movements (The Flat Earth Society, the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia, the Society of the Left Hand). Time to write term papers theses for students with more money than knowledge. And, most important, time to do his dreaming while he’s wide awake.
THE THIEF WHO COULDN'T SLEEP is Tanner's first adventure. It finds our insomniacal hero on a mission to recover a hoard of gold coins, stashed fifty years ago in a house in Balekesir by the city's Armenian community. Promptly jailed by the Turks, Tanner escapes and plays hopscotch across the map of Europe, pulling strings, slipping across borders, and, almost incidentally, formenting a revolution in Macedonia.
Well, these things happen...
Lawrence Block again and this time in the company of his adventurer and spy Evan Tanner. Tanner here is on the hunt for some lost Armenian gold.
Istanbul jails, Shannon airport, Irish attics, a shooting in Dublin and some secret papers, an eccentric Madrid hairdresser, drugs and make-up, Spanish hay carts, Andorra, France, Italy, a Bulgarian priest, Yugoslavia, Macedonian uprisings, bed hopping, illicit border crossings, treasure hunting, untrustworthy partners, 800 mile road trips, Syria, Beirut, a Washington cell, government agencies and finally freedom and a new freelance gig.
A light hearted fun read as Tanner falls in and out of scrapes and the odd bed, while criss-crossing Europe on the strength of a tale recounted by an old Armenian woman back in New York. I really liked the tale with the cast of odd-ball characters Tanner met along his journey. As a character I like the quirk of his never being able to sleep. It does give him the opportunity to get the jump on some his less trustworthy associates. I also like his ability to speak multiple languages, another asset when encountering strangers in strange lands.
I think what also struck me was the Block's observations regarding Yugoslavia and the different nationalist identities of portions of the population, along with the rivalries, tensions and mistrust of each other. It's almost as if he had a crystal ball which predicted the break-up of the artificial state of Yugoslavia. The horrors of the Balkan wars of the early 90s and the subsequent details which emerged of ethnic cleansing, genocidal massacres and war crimes aren't easily forgotten. Tanner's Europe is the one I grew up in and is very different from the world today.
Overall I really enjoyed it. There's humour, action, scrapes - some believable, some far-fetched, and the great company of an easy going, likable main protagonist. I'm going to enjoy more of Evan Tanner's adventures in the next month or two.
4 from 5
Read - (listened to) February, 2020
Published - 1966
Page count - 224 (5 hr 33 min)
Source - Audible download code from one of the author's assistants
Format - Audible