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Editorial Reviews

Legend has it that, while they were working on the script for The Big Sleep, William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett had to phone Raymond Chandler to clarify who killed a particular character; Chandler eventually admitted that even he couldn't work that one out, and let the scriptwriters decide for themselves. In even the most celebrated hard-boiled noir, then, clarity of plot is secondary to atmosphere, tone, and those particularly allusive metaphors — the more overblown, the better. Jonathan Lethem's Gun with Occasional Music (actually the author's first published novel, though newly released here on audio) is no exception — in fact, it takes these noir traditions to their illogical extreme by locating the plot in a surreal near-future where current societal trends are reflected in a funhouse mirror. Animals are "evolved" and take on human characteristics while remaining second-class members of society, babies are given growth hormones to "develop" quickly, radio news is broadcast in the form of abstract music, people's karma levels are monitored by a points-system, and, in a brilliant stroke, the only people allowed to ask direct questions are investigators (called "inquisitors"), so the gumshoe's verbal dexterity and panache takes on a heightened significance that heralds Lethem's career as a literary wunderkind.

Narrator Nick Sullivan serves this dialogue well, and has great fun with the accumulation of wisecracks. Lines like "The Bay View was a vacation spot for people vacating from their husbands and wives" are delivered with perfect timing, fitting for the kind of deadpan one-liners that are stock in trade of gumshoe narratives. If he perhaps emphasises the comic and cartoon at the expense of the story's darker undertones, then it is compensated by his well-drawn cast of characters, including a lugubrious villain and a tough-guy kangaroo hoodlum.

Although not as substantial as Lethem's two masterpieces, Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, Gun with Occasional Music clearly sets forth the author's predilection for genre-bending, being somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick — perhaps with a touch of Who Framed Roger Rabbit thrown in. —Dafydd Phillips

Publisher's Summary

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems - not the least of which are the rabbit in his waiting room and the trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is an ominous place where evolved animals function as members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.

In this brave new world, Metcalf has been shadowing the wife of an affluent doctor, perhaps falling a little in love with her at the same time. But when the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in the crossfire in a futuristic world that is both funny - and not so funny.

©1994 Jonathan Lethem (P)2009 BBC Audio

Critic Reviews

"This colorful first novel is a fast and lively read, full of humorous visions and outlandish predicaments." ( Publishers Weekly)"[A] sparkling pastiche of Chandleresque detective fiction displaced to an almost comical postmodern landscape." ( Booklist)"Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's audaciously assured first novel." ( Newsweek)

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