cover image Gun, with Occasional Music

Gun, with Occasional Music

Jonathan Lethem. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $19.95 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-15-136458-9

Chandleresque, hard-boiled detective narrative finds a quirky new milieu in this SF/mystery/farce of murder and mass mind control set in a near-future Oakland, Calif. Conrad Metcalf is a private dick, but in his era that profession is even more ignominious than in the past. Due to some extreme governmental measures aimed at maintaining public docility, asking questions is taboo, leaving memory as Metcalf's sole resource. Government-distributed ``Make,'' a cocaine-like blend of synthetic, mind-altering drugs, is now de rigeur . So is the magnetic card each citizen carries to keep track of his or her karma points. These points are awarded or docked by ``the Office'' for good or bad behavior and if the balance hits zero, a cryogenic prison term may ensue. Most of the menial work is done by genetically engineered English-speaking, bipedal ``evolved'' animals--sheep, apes, rabbits and kangaroos--and one of the latter is gunning for Metcalf. In this confusing age, the murder of Dr. Maynard Stanhunt, Metcalf's former client, leads the detective to a convoluted conspiracy, unimaginable in our own time. Lethem's invocation of Chandler often wears a bit thin--the prose here is a good deal clumsier than the real thing, and this sort of imitation has already been done too often. Still this colorful first novel is a fast and lively read, full of humorous visions and outlandish predicaments. (Mar.)