Bernie Rhodenbarr has gone legit – almost – as the new owner of a used bookstore in New York's Greenwich Village. Of course, dusty old tomes don't always turn a profit, so to make ends meet, Bernie's forced, on occasion, to indulge in his previous occupation: burglary. Besides which, he likes it.
Now a collector is offering Bernie an opportunity to combine his twin passions by stealing a very rare and very bad book-length poem from a rich man's library.
The heist goes off without a hitch. The delivery of the ill-gotten volume, however, is a different story. Drugged by the client's female go-between, Bernie wakes up in her apartment to find the book gone, the lady dead, a smoking gun in his hand, and the cops at the door. And suddenly he's got to extricate himself from a rather sticky real-life murder mystery and find a killer – before he's booked for Murder One.