The Bookworm: Who’s Watching the House?

“A Burglar’s Guide to the City” by Geoff Manaugh

c.2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux      $16         296 pages

The back door was unlocked when you got home last night. It was locked when you left the house; you remember checking it.

And though you’re trying not to panic, things have been slightly moved and it’s very, very unsettling … so don’t read “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” by Geoff Manaugh.

It’ll just make you feel worse.

The house under construction down the street is going to be a nice one – plenty of big windows, fancy landscaping. You’ve noticed many expensive details.

Burglars have noticed too. And they “understand architecture,” says Manaugh, “better than the rest of us.

They know that sliding doors are easy to remove and that a C-note spent at a hardware store can get them inside pretty much any building. They know that doors and windows aren’t the only way into your house.

But Manaugh says it’s not just that burglars steal things, “it’s how they move that’s so consistently interesting.” They’ll cut through walls, hide in suitcases or appliances, sleuth out floor plans, wiggle through doggy-doors or up garbage chutes, down chimneys or sewers, and sneak through roofs.

They’re patient: they’ll study a building until they find a way in. They’ll study your habits and your schedule. They’ll wait until they know your building better than you do.

Call the police? Sure, they’ve got equipment that can see in the dark and through walls. They know how to set traps. But as quickly as they devise ways to thwart criminals, criminals try to be one step ahead.

Buy a security system?  Sure, but alarms will only slow a burglar down. Ultimately, when it comes to burglary, “you just might not be able to do much about it.”

Oh, my. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book more fascinating or creepier than “A Burglar’s Guide to the City.”

But here’s the surprise: this isn’t a true crime book.

There are crimes described here. The author discusses burglary throughout history and he writes of boneheaded, bungling burglars. Those great stories mostly serve to highlight the reason for this book, though, which is that the buildings in which we live and work have an influence on the way burglars operate.

Cities, Manaugh says, are almost built with thieves in mind; in fact, he offers a challenge: look closely at any random building you’ve driven past many times. How would you get inside?

Try it. You’ll be shocked.

And yet – don’t think that this is a book of instruction. Manaugh cautions that, even if you’re genius at breaking-and-entering, officials are usually smarter. He also goes on to explain how homeowners can lessen the chances of a burglary, why B&E guys aren’t interested in your expensive door locks, and why you should smile pretty when entering a casino.

This book had me stuck to my sofa. It’s lively, informative, oh-so-fun to read, and a must-have for anyone with real estate. If that sounds like your kinda book, then “A Burglar’s Guide to the City” will be a steal.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.

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