Friday, August 5, 2016

Chandler Homage with Kangaroos

Brief Review: Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem


In Jonathan Lethem’s amusing novel, which 
won the Lotus Award for Best First Novel in 1995, Conrad Metcalf lives in a new-age San Francisco where a kangaroo in a dinner jacket is as likely to show up as the Thought Police. For a private eye with an disinclination to back away from the tough questions, either one is an unwelcome visitor. 

But Metcalf also has to deal with a revolt among the babyheads, requiring his presence in this noisy milieu he would rather avoid. Besides, there’s a murder that persists in coming to Metcalf’s attention, despite all his efforts to avoid being involved.
…I was beginning to feel the proverbial breath on my neck, but I tried not to let it spook me into a wrong move. A tail is like a pimple. It comes to a head on its own time. You can rush it, but it usually makes a mess if you do.

This is a world where, if you don’t toe the line, you run out of karma. Metcalf is a man whose business regularly takes him over that line. As we move deeper into the shadows of Metcalf’s San Francisco, we realize that his karma will not last to the end of the book. What happens when his karma drops to zero? The answer is part of the mystery he’s trying to solve.

”Let’s go someplace,” I said. “Your place.”
”My place isn’t good,” she said. “Let’s go to yours.”
I looked at her funny. “Isn’t Kornfield supposed to have someone watching it?”
”Yes,” she said. “Me.”

Lethem has caught the brutal, objective, descriptive style of Raymond Chandler perfectly, and written a good mystery with noir flavor and science fiction spice. It succeeds both as mystery and homage. I recommend it.