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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Groove Book Report: A Burglar's Guide to the City - by Geoff Manaugh

Encompassing nearly 2,000 years of heists and tunnel jobs, break-ins and escapes, A Burglar's Guide to the City offers an unexpected blueprint to the criminal possibilities in the world all around us. You'll never see the city the same way again.
Quotes from the book: 
“Architecture is the “magic of four walls,” he writes, referring to its power to fundamentally transform how certain crimes are judged and how their perpetrators can be sentenced.”
“For the burglar, every building is infinite, endlessly weaving back into itself through meshed gears made of fire escapes and secondary stairways, window frames and screened-in porches, pet doors and ventilation shafts, everything interpenetrating, everything mixed together in a fantastic knot. Rooms and halls coil together like dragons inside of dragons or snakes eating their own tails, rooms opening onto every other room in the city. For the burglar, doors are everywhere. Where we see locks and alarms, they see M. C. Escher.”
I've been putting this off because there are two types of reviews that I like to write: those where I loved the book and want to sing its praises, and those where I really despised it and can't wait to tear it to pieces. When a book is just mediocre ... well.  Who cares? Despite the cool concept and very neat cover, I’m afraid this is one of the latter.  
Like with many I could say that it's not really the book's fault. It didn't entirely meet expectations.  My idea was that the book would be more fantastical, an unstoppable wave of analyses of actual burglaries with diagrams and granular detail on the planning and equipment used and how the cops eventually caught them etc.  Perhaps tales of fraud, etc.  Art theft.  Diamonds and gold heists.   Secret papers and spy thriller plots.  What an opportunity. 
Sadly there are few of those expected moments in the book and when they did they felt flaccid compared with what I imagined would be in there, and instead we’re were surrounded by unending pages of discussion about the act of going through a wall instead of a door, or what the legal definition of burglary is, or anecdotes about riding in a police helicopter in LA and seeing old television film sets.  
I was hoping for a jewellery theft as per The Pink Panther movies, perhaps.  A daring thief on a retractable line lowers down to a triggered floor to snatch the booty.  Sadly, no.  Instead of creative capers, we get mundane stories about police ride-alongs and interviews he conducted. This book would better be titled, "My experiences researching a book about burglary."
Throughout there's just too much chatter and analysis and not enough legends and good narrative.  A great deal of space, for instance, is given to the world of hobby lock pickers and the author's own efforts to learn the skill. At the end of it all he informs us lock picking is irrelevant because burglars don't bother with picking locks, they force entry or find other means of getting into a building. Then why include this information at all?
When actual crimes are mentioned, they are given brief space and left me wanting more details. It felt as if more time was spent explaining the fictional plots of films and books than of real-life crimes.
I really wanted to give this book a higher rating. I heard Manaugh interviewed on NPR and was looking forward to the book. It needed to be shorter, by at least a 25%. If it had been, I would have given it 5 stars. The information was delivered well, it just needed to be tighter. He should shop for a better editor.

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