Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gun, with occasional music by Jonathan Lethem

Conrad Metcalf is one of the few licensed private “inquisitors” left in a future where asking questions is considered rude. He’s a man with a personal code of honor, but only a crappy office and downtrodden wardrobe to show for it. Plus, his girlfriend ran off with his neuro-sexual system. (Don’t ask—the book will explain it far better than I can!) He’s also a drug addict, but then, so is everyone else. The government provides free drugs like Forgettol, Addictol, and Acceptol, to make life more palatable.

When Metcalf’s previous client, a well-heeled urologist who thought his wife was cheating on him, turns up murdered, Metcalf wonders if it had anything to do with his marital difficulties, and figures the Inquisitor’s Office will soon be knocking at his door. But someone else turns up before the cops: the prime suspect, a big dumb kid who calls Metcalf his only hope. Metcalf turns him away, not sure what to believe or maybe just lazy, but the more he learns about the case, the more he wonders if that was a mistake.

Despite himself, he follows a trail through evolved animals, baby-heads, slave-boxes, cryo-punishment, and a heavily armed (and legged) kangaroo, smack into the kind of opportunistic corruption that thrives in totalitarian climes. And, being the kind of guy he is, he won’t back down.

Gun, with Occasional Music is a thought-provoking, tongue-in-cheek dystopian detective story. For me, it brings Orwell’s 1984 to mind, with its damning portrait of an easily misled and subdued populace, as well as some of Jasper Fforde’s work, both his fairytale detective stories and his rainbow-based science-fiction dystopia (thanks to talking animals, noirish detectives, and worlds terribly askew from our own but still oddly familiar.) Jonathan Lethem's first novel is definitely recommended, and if you enjoy it, check out one of his more recent works: I liked Girl in Landscape as well as Motherless Brooklyn.

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