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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Burglar

cover image By: Goodis, David (male)
Publisher: Lion Books (124)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 259: PS3513 .O499 B87 1953
Contributor: S. Roe


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: David Goodis Geographic Locale: United States -- Midwest and the East coast Date of Publication: 1953  |  Original Date: 1953 Setting: urban Motives: theft

Plot Summary

Harbin and his three companions -- Baylock, Dohmer, and Gladden -- are burglars. Harbin isn't happy about it, but so far it has been a living. When an emerald heist, a crooked cop, and a woman named Della complicate their lives, the ability to do the honorable thing becomes increasingly elusive.

Major Characters

Nathaniel Harbin adult male, 34 years old, good looking, medium height and weight, gray eyes that made him look like he was silently suffering, hair the color of ripe wheat, mode of dress was neat and quiet, soft voice, rarely laughs, rarely smiles, burglar

Baylock adult male, middle-aged, balding, growing old fast with pessimism and worry; sick with liver trouble and a tendency to skip meals and sleep; bad eyes that blink frequently; small bony hands constantly rubbing together; "most of the time he was a bore and sometimes he would really get on one's nerves and at times he was truly intolerable. But, he was completely dependable during a haul and valuable after a haul because of his ability to appraise loot"

Dohmer adult male, "tall, heavy Dutchman, touching forty, wide thick nose and a thick neck and a thick brain"; clumsy on his feet, never allowed to work inside houses; burglar

Gladden adult female, approximately 20 years old, thin, orphaned, quiet, kind, pleasant to have around; daughter of a burglar. "When it came to hauls, she was completely mechanical and went through her manoeuvres as though she was knitting. She did all the casing and she did it in a relaxed, somewhat detached manner that made it look almost easy."

Della adult female, pale tan hair, worn tight and flat on her head. Her eyes were the same color. Her nose took up just the right amount of room on her face. She was slender, sleek even. Lovely.


guns, fists

Level of Violence

shooting by and at the police; shooting between villains, drowning. Both explicit and implicit levels of description are included. Frequency: three incidents.


all characters are seemingly heterosexual. Level of description is implied; one incident.

Gender Roles

the main character feels honor-bound to protect and care for Gladden because he was pulling a robbery with her father when her father was killed. Even though it would be better for them to part ways (she's in love with him; he isn't in love with her) so that she could move on to something besides burglaries, neither one is able to completely break away from the other. He feels responsible for her, to her detriment.


none evident

Law Enforcement

actual police officers play only a very peripheral role in the story. The largest part played by law enforcement is by a crooked cop named Charlie.

Subject Headings

Robbery/ Thieves

Psychological Elements

there is lots of guilt: Harbin agonizes over having Gladden with him in this gang of thieves. He feels like her father or older brother. He says, "It was always necessary to get back to Gladden, to be with Gladden, to go with Gladden. It was something on the order of a religion. The root of everything was this throbbing need to take care of Gladden. It was the honorable thing." Her father had found Harbin sick and starving, and had fed him and trained him to be a burglar. Gladden's mother had died when she was born.

Film Adaptations

The Burglar, Columbia, 1957;Le Casse (The Burglars), Verneuil, 1971