Jonathan Lethem has this habit of writing detective novels and adding his own little curlicues on them. Motherless Brooklyn is fronted by a Tourette’s-minded “detective.” The titular character in The Feral Detective loves runaway animals of all kinds (feral included) and is an escaped cultist. Gun, With Occasional Music is set in a future society and has musical guns and talking animals.
Lethem has spoken a lot about his major influences, including my favorite mystery writer Ross Macdonald. What impressed me about this, his first effort, is how polished it is. Lethem’s prose is wonderful. He’s able to master the hardboiled dialogue and atmosphere. A lot of writers try to overdo it on a first novel. Lethem is not one. He knows what he has to say and he says it well. I so wish he wrote more mystery novels and fewer lit/post-modern ones. The latter genre is not my thing and I love his writing.
This one basically comes down to how much you appreciate Lethem’s other obvious influence in this book: Philip K. Dick. I grudgingly read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? last year and even with most of that book forgotten, I could note the many references to Dick. They’re fine, I guess. This kind of science fiction just isn’t my thing. I realize Lethem is exploring bigger themes and I’m sure he does fine but it makes it difficult for me to enjoy or appreciate.
So it’s probably not a 3-star book but it’s 3 to me because one side of the genre mashup doesn’t work for me. If it does for you, I strongly encourage you to pick it up.