Motherless Brooklyn

Jonathan Lethem, Author, Steve Buscemi, Read by HarperAudio $25 (0p) ISBN 978-0-694-52364-1

This entertaining play on the hardboiled detective tale features an unlikely gumshoe with Tourette's syndrome, which compels him to count, tap and make strange vocalizations at inopportune moments. Such ticks could seem gimmicky, but Lethem writes it, and Buscemi performs it, with such styles that the compulsions seem an endearing idiosyncrazy (though not to the Tourettic's cohorts, who call him ""Freakshow""). Regretfully, it's hard to grasp Lethem's wordplay as it goes whizzing by-Buscemi enunciates at great speed to convey the frenetic activity inside the man's head. Lionel Essrog works with three other young men for Frank Minna's small time detective agency (""Minna men,"" Lionel calls them) masquerading as car service (""No cars!"" the boys respond whenever the phone rings). Lionel was saved from an orphanage by Minna, so when his mentor is killed on the job, Lionel is devastated and determines to solve the crime. The chase takes him from a zendo on Manhattan's Upper East Side to a resort on the Maine coast as he follows a character he can identify only as ""the giant."" Buscemi convincingly conveys the accents of Japanese Zen masters and Brooklyn mobsters, along with Lionel's verbal acrobatics, all without losing the noirish ambience Lethem is gently riffing. Listeners may find themselves unable to turn off their walkmen and put this one down. Based on the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Aug. 16, 1999). (Oct. 2000)