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Gun, with Occasional Music: A Novel

Gun, with Occasional Music: A Novel

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Gun, with Occasional Music: A Novel

évaluations:
4/5 (39 évaluations)
Longueur:
283 pages
4 heures
Sortie:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9780547540146
Format:
Livre

Description

A hard-boiled detective tale full of talking animals and murder, from the award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Arrest.

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems—there's a rabbit in his waiting room and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is a brave new world where evolved animals are members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.

Mixing elements of sci-fi, noir, and mystery, this clever first novel from a beloved author is a wry, funny, and satiric look at all that the future may hold.

Metcalf has been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an affluent doctor. Perhaps he's falling a little in love with her at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor's Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of a bar called the Fickle Muse.

Newsweek“Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision.”—

“Marvelous…Stylish, intelligent, darkly humorous, and highly readable entertainment.”—San Francisco Examiner
Sortie:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9780547540146
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Jonathan Lethem's novels include Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, his most recent book is The Disappointment Artist. Lethem was born and raised in Brooklyn, where he still lives.

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Gun, with Occasional Music - Jonathan Lethem

Chandler

PART I

Chapter 1

IT WAS THERE WHEN I WOKE UP, I SWEAR. THE FEELING.

It was two weeks after I’d quit my last case, working for Maynard Stanhunt. The feeling was there before I tuned in the musical interpretation of the news on my bedside radio, but it was the musical news that confirmed it: I was about to work again. I would get a case. Violins were stabbing their way through the choral arrangements in a series of ascending runs that never resolved, never peaked, just faded away and were replaced by more of the same. It was the sound of trouble, something private and tragic; suicide, or murder, rather than a political event.

It was the kind of musical news that forces me to perk up my ears. Murder doesn’t get publicized much anymore. Usually it’s something you hear in an after-hours place between drinks—or else you stumble across it yourself on a case, and then you’re the lone voice at the bar, telling a story of murder to people afraid to believe you.

But the violins nagged at me. The violins said I should get up that morning and go down to my office. They said there was something like a case out there. They set my wallet throbbing.

So I showered and shaved and got my gums bleeding with a toothbrush, then stumbled into the kitchen to cauterize the wounds with some scalding coffee. The mirror was still out, with fat, half-snorted lines of my blend stretching across it like double-jointed white fingers. I picked up the razor blade and steered the drugs back into a wax-paper envelope, and brushed off the mirror with my sleeve. Then I made coffee, slowly. By the time I was done with it, the morning was mostly over. I went down to the office anyway.

I shared my waiting room with a dentist. The suite had originally been designed for a pair of psychoanalysts, whose clients were probably better able to share than the dentist’s and mine—back when telling other people about your problems was the rage. I sometimes thought it was ironic, that the psychoanalysts had probably hoped to put guys like me out of business, but that in the end it had been the other way around.

Myself, I couldn’t see answering all those personal questions. I’m willing to break the taboo against asking questions—in fact it’s my job—but I’m pretty much like the next guy when it comes to answering them. I don’t like it. That’s just how it is.

I bustled past the dentist’s midday patients and into my office, where I lowered my collar and relaxed my sneer. I’d been away for almost a week, but the room hadn’t changed any. The lights flickered, and the dust bunnies under the furniture pulsed in the breeze when I opened the door. I couldn’t see the water stain on the wall because of the chair I’d pushed up against it, but that didn’t keep me from knowing it was there. I burdened the hunchbacked hat tree with my coat and hat and sat down behind the desk.

I picked up the telephone, just to check the dial tone, then set it back down: dial tone okay. So I tuned in my radio to hear the spoken-word news, assuming there was any. All too often the discordant sounds of the early report are all smoothed over by the time the verbal guys get to it, and all you’re left with is the uneasy feeling that something happened, somewhere, sometime.

But not this time. This time it was news. Maynard Stanhunt, wealthy Oakland doctor, shot dead in a sleazy motel room five blocks from his office. The newsman named the inquisitors who would be handling the case, said that Stanhunt had been separated from his wife, and that was it. When it was over, I switched stations, hoping to pick up some other coverage, but it must have played as the lead story all across the dial, the moment the morning ban on verbiage lifted, and there wasn’t any more.

My feelings were mixed. I hadn’t figured on knowing the victim. Maynard Stanhunt was an arrogant man, an affluent doctor who’d built up a pretty good surplus of karmic points to match what must have been a pile in the bank, and he let you know it, but in subtle ways. He drove an antique name-brand car, for instance, instead of the standard-issue dutiframe. He had a fancy office in the California Building and a fancy platinum blonde wife who sometimes didn’t come home at night, or so he said. I probably would have envied the guy if I had never met him.

I didn’t envy Stanhunt because of the mess he’d made of his life. He was a Forgettol addict. Don’t get me wrong—I’m as deeply hooked on make as the next guy, maybe deeper, but Stanhunt was using Forgettol to carve his life up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I found that out the night I tried to call him at home and he didn’t recognize my name. He wasn’t incoherent or groggy—he simply didn’t know who I was or why I was calling. He’d hired me out of his office, probably because he didn’t like the idea of a shabby private inquisitor tracking mud over his expensive carpets, and now his evening self just didn’t know who I was. That was okay. It was justified. I’m a mess, and I imagine Maynard Stanhunt kept his home pretty nice. Everything about Maynard Stanhunt was pretty nice except the job he hired me to do for him: rough up his wife and tell her to come home.

He didn’t come right out with it, of course. They never do. I’d been in his employ for almost a week, working what I thought was strictly a peeper job, before he told me what he really wanted. I didn’t bother explaining to him that I went private partly because I didn’t like the part of the job where I bullied people. I just refused to do it, and he fired me, or I quit.

So now the golden boy had gone and gotten himself nixed. Too bad. I knew that the coincidence of my working for the dead man would earn me a visit from the Inquisitor’s Office. I didn’t relish it but I didn’t dread it. The visit would be perfunctory because the inquisitors had probably already settled on a suspect: if they weren’t about to break the case with a flourish, they never would have let it get all over the verbal news.

For the same reason I knew there wasn’t any work in it, and that was a shame. The whole thing would be crawled over by the Office, and that didn’t leave enough room for a guy like me to work—assuming there was a client. It was probably an open-and-shut case, and the one poor soul who was client material was probably also guilty as hell. Murder earned you a stay in the freezer, and the guy the inquisitors had in mind was likely no more than a few hours from cold storage.

It wasn’t my problem. I switched back to the musical news. They were already comforting the populace with a soothing background of harps playing sevenths, and the rumble of a tuba to represent the inexorable progress of justice. I let it lull me to sleep on the desk.

I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke, it was to the sound of the dentist’s voice.

Wake up, Metcalf, he said a second time. There’s a man in the waiting room who doesn’t want his teeth cleaned.

The dentist swiveled on his heels and disappeared, leaving me there to massage my jaw back into feeling after its brief, masochistic marriage to the top of my wooden desk.

Chapter 2

MY NAME IS ORTON ANGWINE.

He was a big sheepish-looking kid with a little voice. It probably wouldn’t have woken me; he would have had to step around the desk and shake my shoulder. But the dentist saved him the trouble, and I was already rubbing my bleary eyes with my thumbs and gathering saliva in the back of my mouth to talk with, so he just stood there gaping stupidly while I put myself back together. I motioned for him to sit down when I saw he wasn’t going to do it without an invitation. Then I looked him over.

I often try to guess a person’s karmic level before they even begin talking, and I was quickly working up a pretty low estimate for this guy. His eyes were sunken, his sandy-colored hair was pasted across his forehead with sweat, and his bottom lip was tight across his teeth. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, but he’d obviously lived enough to have things to regret. He looked like he’d taken a long fall a short time ago. Pieces of the man he’d been were jumbled up with the new guy, the lost soul. My guess was he’d been that better man as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

My name is Orton Angwine, he said again, in a voice that sounded like it had been washed with too much bleach.

Okay, I said. My name is Conrad Metcalf, and I’m a private inquisitor. You knew that. You read it somewhere and it gave you hope. Let me tell you now that it’ll cost you seven hundred dollars a day to keep that hope alive. What you’ll get for that money won’t be a new best friend. I’m as much of a pain in the ass to the people who pay me as I am to the guys I go up against. Most people walk out of my office knowing things about themselves they didn’t want to know—unless they leave after my first little speech. See the door?

I need your help and I’m willing to pay for it, he managed when I finished. You’re my last chance.

I knew that already. I’m everybody’s last chance. How much karma do you have left?

Excuse me. He crossed his legs.

It was the standard response. In a world where it was impolite to ask your neighbor the time of day, I was rudeness incarnate, and I was used to prodding or pushing people out of their initial discomfort with it. That was how I made my living. Angwine had probably never answered a straightforward question before—except one asked out of the Inquisitor’s Office. Those were questions everyone answered.

Let’s get this straight, I said. What you’re paying me to do is ask questions. That’s the effective difference between us; I ask questions, and you don’t. And I need your cooperation. You can lie—most people do—and you can curse me afterwards. But don’t get all goggle-eyed. Now give me your card. I need to know your karmic level.

He was too desolate to work up a real sense of outrage. He just dug in his pocket for the plastic chit and passed it across the desk, avoiding my eyes while I ran it through my pocket decoder.

It came up empty. The magnetic stripe on his card was completely wiped out. He was at zero; it meant he was a dead man. I assumed he knew it.

When the Inquisitor’s Office set your card at zero, it meant you couldn’t get caught slamming the door to a public rest room without sinking into a negative karmic level. The sound of that door slamming would be the last anyone heard of you for a long time, or maybe ever. I hadn’t seen a card at zero for a long time, and when I had, it was always in the trembling hands of a man about to take the fall for a major aberration.

It was a formality—it said the case against you was all but sewn up, and they were going to let you roam the streets for a day or two more, a walking advertisement for the system. You could try to raise your karmic level helping old blind nanny goats across streets, or you could go to a bar and drink yourself stupid—it didn’t matter. There was a heavy iron door between you and the rest of your life, and all you could do was watch it swing shut.

I handed the card back across the desk. That’s big trouble, I said, softening my tone a bit. I’m usually not much use when it gets like that. The least I could do was be honest.

I want you to try, he said, his eyes pleading.

Well, I’ve got nothing better to do, I said. Nothing better than taking the money off a walking corpse. But we’ll have to work fast. I’m going to ask you questions now, one after another, probably more than you’ve ever been asked before, and I’ll need a straight answer for each and every one of them. What is it you’re supposed to have done?

The Inquisitor’s Office says I killed a man named Maynard Stanhunt.

I felt like a fool. The news had caused a picture to form in my mind, of a man who, right or wrong, was about to go to the freezer to make the Office look good. Yet I hadn’t recognized the guy when he walked right into my own office.

Forget it, I said. Here—forget it on me. I opened my desk drawer and took out a packet and handed it across the desk. It was a sample of my own blend of make, a blend I personally thought could do a doomed man a lot of good. Take the drugs and get out. Nothing I do is going to make the least bit of difference for you. If I set my foot in the Stanhunt case, I’ll be committing suicide for both of us—sort of a lover’s leap. I worked for Stanhunt a couple of weeks ago, and it’s going to be hard enough keeping my hair clean of the Inquisitor’s Office without your help. No thank you very much. I took out a razor blade and dropped it on the desk next to the packet of make.

Angwine didn’t take the packet. He just sat there, looking sad and confused, and younger to me by the minute. I waved my hand dismissively and reached for the packet myself. If he didn’t want it, I did.

I spread the powder out sloppily on the desk and chopped it up with the blade, unmindful of the amount I was wasting by grinding it into the wooden desktop. Angwine got to his feet and shuffled out of my office. I expected him to slam the door, but he didn’t. Maybe he thought I was a real inquisitor instead of a P.I., and that I would penalize him for it. I understood. The guy didn’t have any karma to spare on dramatic exits.

My blend is skewed heavily towards Acceptol, with just a touch of Regrettol to provide that bittersweet edge, and enough addictol to keep me craving it even in my darkest moments. I snorted a line through a rolled hundred-dollar bill, and pretty soon I was feeling the effects. It was good stuff. I toyed with my blend for a few years, but when I hit on this particular mixture, I knew I’d found my magic formula, my grail. It made me feel exactly the way I needed to feel. Better.

Or at least it usually did. A guy in my line of work can’t afford to snort much Forgettol, and I played it safe by not snorting any. But just this once I could have used some, because the Angwine sequence was gnawing at my gut. I don’t suppose you could call it conscience, just the nagging feeling that for a guy who billed himself as everybody’s last chance I wasn’t living up to my own hype. I was just another inquisitor closing my eyes to Angwine’s plight; it didn’t matter that I was private instead of working for the Office.

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, right?

I snorted another line and sighed. It was worse than stupid to get involved with the Stanhunt murder. Yet I was experiencing that sense of inevitability that always comes at the start of a new case. I’d woken up with the feeling, and it hadn’t gone away. When you’re young, you think falling in love means meeting a beautiful stranger. The feeling I’d had when I heard the musical news was like that. But then you find yourself getting involved with your best friend’s kid sister, the girl who’s been underfoot all along and who’s already seen you at some of your worst moments.

My new case was kind of like that. I wiped the desk clean with my sleeve and put on my hat and coat and went out.

Chapter 3

MAYNARD STANHUNT’S OFFICE WAS IN THE CALIFORNIA Building on Fourth Street, near the bay. I drove down and parked my car in Stanhunt’s space, figuring he didn’t need it anymore, and went into the lobby and waited for the elevator Things in the building looked pretty much the same as before—but then the murder hadn’t happened in the California.

I rode up in the elevator with an evolved sow. She was wearing a bonnet and a flowered dress, but she still smelled like a barnyard. She smiled at me and I managed to smile back, then she got off on the fourth floor. I got off on the seventh and pressed the doorbell at the offices of Testafer and Stanhunt, urologists. While I waited, I mused on the ironies of life. When I walked out of this office two weeks ago, I hadn’t expected to set foot in it again, or at least not until I developed prostate trouble. The buzzer sounded, and I went in.

The waiting room was empty, except for a guy in a nice suit and a big square haircut who might or might not have been from the Inquisitor’s Office. I considered the possibility and withheld judgment. He looked quickly up at me and then back down at his magazine. I shut the door. No one was behind the reception desk, so I sat, down on the sofa across from Mr. Suit.

Testafer and Stanhunt, like any practice which dealt with problems of a confidential nature, charged top-dollar rates for unexceptional treatment and downright indifferent reception. The customers slunk in and out quietly enough, grateful the office was clean and that their problems went away. Stanhunt was the new boy, or was until yesterday. Testafer had already made his bundle and gotten out, except to leave a shingle hanging. His specialty had probably been no different from Stanhunt’s: the radical walletectomy. I’d managed to visit the office five or six times without meeting him, but I was going to meet him now if anyone could.

A door opened in the back and the nurse came out. She was a redhead with a pair of alert breasts that always managed to appear slightly akimbo, as if she shopped for her underwear in a discount irregulars place. Recognizing me, she turned down the corners of her mouth. I dredged her name up from the murk of my consciousness, but she spoke before I could use it.

You can’t be here looking for more work—you’re not that tasteless and you’re not that stupid. Close, but not quite. She was good at her job. I had to give her that.

I didn’t realize I’d made such an impression on you, Princess. I came here looking for a friendly face, actually. I realize I may have to settle for Dr. Testafer.

If I tell Dr. Testafer what you do for a living, he’ll tell me to tell you he’s not here. So he’s not here.

You’re a sweetheart, I’ll admit it. Now find your appointment book.

We’re closed for the next forty-eight hours. I’m sure even you can understand why.

I decided to turn on the heat, or what little I had that could pass for it. Tell Testafer I want to return some materials I assembled while working for Maynard. It was pure bluff. I was holding out, but there doesn’t seem to be any point in that now.

You’re going to—

I’m going to see the doctor at four-thirty, baby. Write it down. Tell him I have a terrible pain right here. I showed her with my hand.

By this time we’d gotten the attention of Mr. Suit. He put down his magazine and stood up, rubbing his jaw with his big beefy hand as if considering the possible juxtaposition of jaw and hand, generally; mine and his, specifically.

I’m trying to figure you out, mister, he said. You seem pretty rude. If he was an inquisitor, he wasn’t tipping his hand with a question.

Don’t try to figure me out, I said. It doesn’t work—I’ve tried it myself.

I recommend you go home and work on it some more. Come back maybe when you’ve figured out how to apologize. But not before.

I marveled at his swagger. His eyes were unclouded by intelligence. I wanted to see him as an inquisitor, but I still wasn’t sure.

Apologies aren’t something you want to get in the habit of practicing in the mirror, I said. But from the look of you, I guess you wouldn’t understand what I mean.

I let him chew on that—it was obviously going to take a while.

Write it down, I said again to the girl. I’ll be on time—make sure the doctor gets the message, so he can be too. I turned to the door, deciding to quit while I was ahead. The Suit didn’t try to stop me.

I got into the elevator and played back the scene in my head while I watched the buttons light up. I’d been my usual sweet self with the girl, but that didn’t bother me anymore. I was at permanent war with members of the fair sex because of what they’d cut out of me, dripping blood and still beating. I preferred to keep them hating me, because if they liked me, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. I wasn’t a man anymore. That was Delia Limetree’s fault, and I would never forgive her

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Avis des lecteurs

  • (4/5)
    Fantastic dialogue. Follows all the conventions of noir, except of course for the inclusion of karma points as a means to control society, the monstrously adult babies, and the bad-mouthed, gun-happy kangaroo.
  • (4/5)
    The January movie trades were abuzz with news that a screenwriter has been picked to adapt Jonathan Lethem’s first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, for the Polsky brothers, Gabe and Alan. For those unfamiliar with the young producers—30 and 33, respectively—they were behind Werner Herzog’s re-imagining of Bad Lieutenant, creatively called Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Didn’t see it? Me either, mostly because it starred Nicolas Cage whose good movie-to-crap ratio has gotten completely out of whack—still, it is a ballsy proposition to willingly go up against Harvey Keitel’s performance as the original (very, very, … very) bad lieutenant.About the book: one of my favorite things about Lethem’s work is the sense of fun he imparts when playing with the expectations of genre. Gun takes the noir of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and fuses it with the dystopian science fiction of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, with a little William S. Burroughs thrown in for leavening.The life of Gun’s protagonist, futuristic flat foot Conrad Metcalf, gets complicated when his client on a simple peep job ends up murdered. The problem compounds exponentially when the number one suspect, after Metcalf himself, shows up to hire the detective to find the real killer.This brings unwanted heat from the Inquisitor’s Office, an all-seeing, not-so-secret police force that has the power to remove “karma points” from citizens as they see fit. To let one’s karma fall to zero is to become a non-person and awards the unlucky a trip to the (literal) freezer. Further complicating matters, is the fact that everyone is hooked on the government-supplied drugs “Forgettol” and “Acceptol” which makes getting a straight answer from anyone an interesting challenge.Not satisfied with a run-of-the-mill paranoid run through one of our possible paths, Lethem ups the ante with super-evolved talking animals, including a gun-toting kangaroo (inspired by a Chandler quote reproduced at the top of the story), a concubine sheep, and disturbing “babyheads,” human toddlers who have had the same mutagenic fast-forward applied to them, making them little alcoholic fatalist assholes.Lethem would return to the detective genre with the award-winning Motherless Brooklyn, which if I were a Polsky brother and had just blown into Hollywood with an butt load of cash, I would have started there. Talking kangaroos and the like are tricky to pull off without looking ridiculous, and like the creatures in David Cronenberg’s 1991 take on Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, perhaps left to the individual widescreens in our heads.As for who might be right for the part of Metcalf—why not double down and go with Cage? In for a penny, in for a pound.
  • (3/5)
    I'll admit, I have a hard time with hardboiled private investigator pastiches, in that frequently I find the prose overwrought to the point of unreadability. Even if I don't generally enjoy his work, Lethem is a (IMO) a better writer than most who attempt it however, and the prose never quite sinks into the usual cliches and heavy-handedness that so many other pastiches do.My problem with it more fell into the line that I didn't really think the plot itself was very compelling: standard private investigator plot, with a final twist/revelation you can see coming from far off, combined with very '90s sci-fi elements that only serve to make it feel dated and diminish any attempt at social commentary it may have had.Onto the "sell" pile it likely goes.
  • (5/5)
    As others have written, this is a sci-fi noir detective novel, complete with intelligent animals and Raymond Chandler cliches in a dystopian future. One is reminded of Philip Dick, William Gibson, and Roger Rabbit, all in the voice of a nouveau Raymond Chandler. Apart from being outrageous and fun, one also thinks of it as warning about how quickly the world can change, and not for the better. One of the most novel ideas is that in this future it is forbidden to ask questions, except for police and the rare private eye. This is one of Lethem's better books.
  • (5/5)
    If Philip K Dick and William Burroughs had a love child, it would grow up to be this novel. I'm not much on who-dunnits, but tue science fiction is so powerful, here, that I still loved it. The gender issues that the protagonist faces are extremely interesting. HIGHLY recommended.
  • (5/5)
    I can't believe I allowed this gem to languish so long. This is noir set in the near-distant future with a cast of characters which includes "evolved" animals ranging from Joey the kangaroo, a vicious thug, to sweet Dulcie the ewe, not to mention "evolved" babies, the Babyheads. P. I. (Private Inquisitor, not Private Investigator; in this future the only people who can ask questions are Inquisitors, Private or Government), Conrad Metcalf has been hired by a man accused of murder (and about to be "frozen" for that crime) to prove his innocence. Conrad must conduct his investigation in a world where everyone, including himself, relies on drugs with varying proportions of Forgetterol, Regreterol, Acceptol, Avoidol etc. etc., but always with a heaping dose of Addictol. Everyone must also carry a card showing their "Karma" number, which is constantly subject to reduction by government inquisitors.What a unique and utterly cohesive world Lethem has created and what a unique genre--sci fi, dystopian, noir?--whatever--it totally works. The tone, too, is unique--depressing but funny. I totally loved this book. Highly recommended.4 1/2 stars
  • (4/5)
    a hot Chandler retread. In future Oakland. Has all the ingredients: cynical gumshoe, bash or two over his head, authorities on the take, sex, violence, and an evolved kangaroo gunzel who keeps his heater in his pouch. OK, the writer may be too clever, too complicated, too plotting for most--but this is the book I wish I had written. Of course, I would have done it differently. In Oaxaca. With evolved wisecracking bicycles, pipelines, condos, and toilets.
  • (3/5)
    GWOM is wildly different and creative. This is a scifi/noir/detective story, but those categorizations only begin to describe this book that, as a Newsweek critic wrote, “marries Chandler’s style and Philip K. Dick’s vision.” And indeed, the opening lines of the second chapter of Raymond Chandler’s final book, Playback, served as the inspiration for this one, as elucidated by the epigraph: "There was nothing to it. The Super Chief was on time, as it almost always is, and the subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket." GWOM is set in a futuristic California in which evolved animals perform the menial tasks; where the population is kept subdued by legalized addiction to “make” (drugs like “Forgettol” and “Acceptol”); and where words in newspapers have been outlawed and replaced by only pictures. (Music is also acceptable for the expression of ideas. For example, when an evolved baby (called a “babyhead”) or perhaps a kangaroo pulls out a gun and points it at you, the gun might play a few bars of “ominous, pulsing violin.”) In this new world, criminals are frozen for the length of their term, citizens have to accrue karma points to stay out of trouble with the Inquisitor’s Office, and personal formulae for addictive drugs are kept on a computer at a “makery” where you pick up your supply of “make.” Conrad Metcalf is a P.I. (here meaning, Private Inquisitor) who is, like most other citizens, addicted to "make" (but because of his job requirements, lays off the Forgettol, opting instead for Regrettol). He is looking into the murder of Maynard Stanhunt, who had hired Metcalf just a week earlier to investigate his wife, Celeste, a typical noir mystery “dame”:"Celeste Stanhunt was a nice-looking woman who became something more when you were being paid to peek through her windows. To put it simply, there hadn’t been any need to undress her in my mind.”Indeed, at one point, Celeste, in an attempt to manipulate Metcalf, “applied herself to the front of my body like a full-length decal…”But like all noir, there is darkness, as with this scene reminiscent of the movie “Blue Velvet”: "For Celeste, I knew as surely as our hips had ground together, danger was the intoxicant, and if there wasn’t danger there would have to be something else, some other malign aphrodisiac. I wanted to hit her as much as I wanted to fuck her, and she probably wanted to be hit as much as she wanted anything.”Metcalf quit the Inquisitor’s Office to go private because, besides the usual noir mystery reasons of the protagonist being a loner and having an adverse reaction to authority, Metcalf maintained that “the inquisitors specialize in nifty solutions at the expense of truth.…” But one of Metcalf’s enemies points out Metcalf is no different: "’The Office and the makery – they’re one and the same to me,’ he said. ‘Make is a tool for controlling great masses of people. It homogenizes their response to repression, don’t you think? You consider yourself an outsider, a seeker of truth amidst lies, yet you’ve bought into the biggest lie that can be told. You snort that lie through your nose and let it run in your bloodstream.”Metcalf prefers to say that he is “looking at the world through a rose-colored bloodstream…”As Metcalf closes in on the truth of what happened to Stanhunt, there are a lot more deaths, as well as informative encounters with ewes, apes, and the kangaroo named Joey. Metcalf keeps losing his karma, and the only question is, will he also lose his life? Or has he already lost it?Evaluation: This was fun, but a little too deliberately constructed for me to lose myself in the story. Nevertheless, I was starting to get invested in the main character by the end, and thus was disappointed when the author dropped the inchoate emo angle and went back to cold cynicism. And yet, it is cold cynicism that characterizes the genre, and as such, was entirely appropriate.
  • (5/5)
    Lethem somehow succeeds at telling a hardboiled noir story of a private eye, a la Hammett, in an alternate Bay Area science fictional universe where animals talk (and some carry guns) and everyone partakes of a combination of drugs such as addictol, forgetall, etc. The plot meanders a bit confusingly around, like the best Chandler, and the PI protagonist struggles with his addiction--and one other little problem I'll leave you to discover for yourself--while trying to figure out who killed an ex-client. The search leads him through a series of mansions, clubs, and offices right out of Chandler, with a few crazy science fiction twists thrown in. But, as I said to begin with, somehow it all works. Rather than coming across as some sort of pastiche of a real noir novel, this book succeeds at being both a real noir novel and a weird science fictional dystopia at the same time. All in all, it verges on brilliant. The only jarring parts are the weird combination of futuristic medical procedures and scientific advances with a world devoid of cell phones! Sort of as if you combined 1944 and 2044, which is why I assign it to an alternate Bay Area rather than a future one--although the setting doesn't remotely conjure up Oakland or San Francisco. The story is driven by its characters and plot, not by its setting.)
  • (4/5)
    An interesting mystery set in the future, where animals can be evolved to human intelligent, everybody is on some drug to help them get through the day, and news is reported through music.Its a depressing world - In the pursuit of privateness - asking questions is illegal. This allows for the police force (inquisition in the book) to institute a totalitarian type government.In this book, Conrad Metcalf is private detective. He unwillingly gets involved with a case that could land him in trouble. As he untangles the mystery, he goes all in, with everything to loose if he doesn't solve this case. The world building is quite amazing - for a book written in 2001, it feels very much like it was a backlash against today’s very un-private world. The characters are flat - but than, this world is flat. The people in charge want it that way - having a population that doesn't care is easier to manage than one that is angry. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Lethem's novel "Gun, With Occasional Music" still remains my favorite work of his, as he manages to master a genre so few others have, the Future-Noir. Most writters tend to simply put their hero in a cyberpunk future and slap a hat and trenchcoat on them, but Lethem actually creates a future landscape that feels both old and new, a confused era where technological advancements also seem like steps backward.Much like the good old days of of the 50's, when elaborate Labor Saving Devices and Technical Marvels to Simplify Life flooded a market hungry for luxury, Lethem creates a reality where psychological comfort is the main goal. Less Orwellian than it is Feel-Good Legislation run amok, Letham's world has outlawed questions and reading, removed facts and words from news reports, and placed karmic justice under government control. This world is a happy place, like it or not, and it is illegal to rock the boat. Of, course, this sort of environment is no place for a detective, and that is where the true appeal of Gun shines through. A man totally out of his element, a private eye in a world where no one wants answers, he's a character that most people can identify with on some levels, a man who clings to a purpose that society has decided to make obsolete. If any detective deserves his own series, this one does.Add to this Letham's excellent writting style, with his ability to crank out memorable descriptions and lines of dialogue that will claw at your skull long after you put the book down, and you have a novel you'll be recommending to friends for years to come. "Gun, With Occasional Music" belongs on the top of any reading list.
  • (4/5)
    I was exposed to the works of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane in my late teens and haven't read any of their work since. This book was great fun to read! The inevitable comparisons to both Dick and Chandler are quite apt but, fortunately for me, it had none of the long-winded exposition that so encumbers Dick's work. Dark and serious, but with a street-hardened and smart sense of humor throughout, it's everything enjoyable about genre fiction-- without the guilt.
  • (4/5)
    Gun, with Occasional Music is the perfect off-balance title for this novel. Its tightrope walk of the really weird and the really normal was a lot of fun. Predictable in the extreme though and that’s why the ½ point deduction. The adherence to the noir detective novel was textbook. The opening scene featured a shabby PI in his shabby office. A little aside involving the phone and calling his own number to make sure it still worked was right out of the Chandler/Spillane handbook. In a way it was fun to see how many of the clichés he could hit and he pretty much hit all of them. The temping dames. The double-crosses. The menacing cops. The beatings. All there and in perfect order.The elements of the dystopian future were quite unsettling. I wondered how society or commerce could function at all with people loading up on state-sanctioned Forgettal and Acceptal (laced with appropriate amounts of Addictal). At first, people had to employ notepads to keep track of vital details like their names and addresses. How the hell could they remember their jobs? Jokes of one surgeon asking another if he remembered where the appendix is went through my head like lightning. Crazy. When the PI wakes from his 6-year freezing sentence, the blend has switched to pure Forgettal with an Addictal boost.All of this to keep the Karma quotient high and functioning. Mandated good acts force everyone to keep their karma card with them at all times. Irritated Inquisitors (now that name dredges up some interesting ideas and a bit of Monty Python) can deduct karma points at will and without valid reason. Get too low and you can be hauled away for freezing or electronics-induced slavery in one of the many flesh emporiums that are always hungry for new bodies. News is no longer delivered with any rational sense. Your first dose is a musical rendition of the news. Philip Glass channeling Walter Cronkite I guess. Exactly what you were supposed to glean from this is anyone’s guess. If you really needed more, you could listen to the talking heads spout nonsense. All I could think of was that beer commercial with the news crew who just wants to break for a cold one. The anchor looks into the camera and says something like “Europe” , “The Economy” and “The President”, the weather girl says “Sunny!” and the sports guy says “16 to 10”, “76 to 64” and “tied” and then they scatter. That must be what the spoken news is like because ideas are verboten and printing is outlawed. In the end, even questions and speech are karma reducing offenses that no one indulges in anymore. What a world for a PI to have to live in. Luckily he has is Forgettal.
  • (3/5)
    This is an interesting concept. I enjoy both Hard Boiled detective fiction and Science fiction, so a blending of the 2 should be fantastic. Unfortunately, while interesting and well written, there are parts of this book that drag and seem to lost focus. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, or wouldn't recommend it to others. This book takes place in the far future where questions and the printed word are outlawed and only people that are licensed to do so can ask any question at all. A murder takes place and an innocent man is taken down. When our hero, the private-I, digs around he discovers corruption that goes all the way up the chain. All told a good, not great detective / Sci-fi novel, that makes for an interesting read, but ultimately lacks a good finish.
  • (5/5)
    Classic noir (complete with dames, flatfoots, and molls) with Philip K. Dick influences as mentioned by others in reviews. The ending even has the required 'justice is done on the hero's terms' bit of bitter righteousness. Brilliant.
  • (4/5)
    It's essentially a noir private-detective story set in a wildly speculative future California. Hilarious, witty, and intensely disturbing, Lethem's future landscape is populated by human infant 'babyheads' who've undergone evolution therapy. Certain animals who have also undergone the treatment walk upright and possess the rights of legal personhood. Unlicensed questions are considered impolite and border upon the illegal. The Inquisitor's Bureau runs a semi-Orwellian police state in which state-sponsored drugs are the nose candies of the average citizen and a defunct karma-card earns you a spot in the freezer. Whats's more, the protagonist's sense of metaphor is flawless. It's entirely possible that this novel inspired Radiohead's 'Karma Police' and I'm virtually certain that Robert Shearman borrowed some of its major ideas and feelings for his 'Maltese Penguin' script.
  • (5/5)
    This book was on my shelf for a very long time... I think I thought it was a different kind of book than it actually was. It is billed as a noir-detective type novel, but I would have to say that it is equally an alternative future/sci-fi type novel.It does have the Chandler-esque tone to it: making it on the dark side, and the action short and succinct. It is not particularly violent or graphic, but has an over-arching depression about it. (i.e. you won't find a feel-good sensation at the end).There is significant drug use - in fact, this is one of the components that set the novel out as alternative future-ish... drug use has been legalized, and, even more disturbingly, made customizable for the end users. In fact, it changes society completely at the end - and It adds a layer of bleakness to the story, while still remaining believable.I have read elsewhere that the novel was a commentary on the state of individual detachment from/in the world, and I suppose that could be an accurate description. Except that I didn't read it for social insights or moral issues; I read it for simple enjoyment. Fortunately it delivered. Sure, you can read all sorts of stuff into it, but you don't have to, and I think the book stands well as a futuristic noir.
  • (5/5)
    This is a fun read that reminds me of Philip K. Dick.
  • (5/5)
    I took me a long while to pick up this book, Jonathan Lethem's debut novel. I'm so glad I did. What an auspcious beginning to this author's writing career!This book is unlike anything else I've ever read because I tend to veer away from mysteries as well as science fiction. Because I'm such a big fan of Lethem's _Motherless Brooklyn_, I thought I'd give this book a try, plus it's a novel that my daughter loves. I promised to return this book to her when I finished itIt takes a long, long time to get into this story. It is very complicated, not only because of the intertwining characters, but also because it is set in a dystopian world which needs to be figured out along the way. You learn about karma, make, inquisitors, the license to ask questions, memory machines, evolving animals. music from all machines, the deep freeze, etc. What fun! What imagination!I loved the ending where Conrad Metcalf, private inquisitor (not part of the Office) figures out who killed Maynard Stanhunt. I laughed out loud for a long time. This novel is brilliant, Give it a try and don't give up midway through. It's worth working your way straight through the ending whether or not you're a fan of mysteries and science fiction. If you are such a reader, your enjoyment of this novel will be that much greater!
  • (4/5)
    Cool original ideas, cool plot, funny and dark
  • (4/5)
    Conrad Metcalf is a private dick in a dystopia where asking questions is outlawed by the government. Individual evolution is sped up so infants, called babyheads, rebel like out of control teenagers, smoking, swearing, taking drugs and hanging out in gangs. Animals have been genetically engineered so they can do menial work but they also commit crimes and one of them is gunning for Metcalf. Smart, dark and funny.
  • (3/5)
    "Gun, with occasional music" follows private detective Conrad Metcalf in his investigation into just what happened to his former murdered boss, especially after the supposed murderer hires Metcalf to clear his name. The book is certainly an interesting take on the classic noir, with the dystopian near-future world adding a certain amount of flair.However, the addition of mind altering drugs, highly evolved animals and strange, partially grown baby-things, while interesting, only distracts from the main story. In fact, a lot of times it seems almost an after fact, as if Jonathan Lethem threw them in just to make his book seem more like science fiction than than a normal crime noir.Overall, an interest book, and one you should check out if you like sci-fi and crime noir.
  • (4/5)
    A hard-boiled detective with a Raymond Chandler mouth fights for justice in a near-future Oakland. What a wild ride! This novel is full of sheep and kangaroos that talk among other strange things, but manages to be very darkly humorous and wonderfully entertaining. While the dialogue and some of the narrative is downright campy at times, the story simmers with restrained guffaws of realism. Overall a stunning first novel and a riotous romp of triumph. "She was either looking good for fifty or bad for thirty-five..."
  • (3/5)
    This is so weird. Very black humor. Liked it.
  • (3/5)
    My reaction to reading this novel in 1995. Spoilers may follow.The strange title makes sense at the end of the novel when mechanical devices, including guns, often have musical accompaniments. This is another mystery written in direct stylistic imitation of Raymond Chandler. I’ve never read Chandler himself though I’ve come close by watching Double Indemnity which he scripted. I suspect the plot of the book – a lone cynical detective trying to unmask the corruption of the world around him – mirrors Chandler’s private eye heroes. The corrupt world of this book, sometime in the middle or early 21st century, is a sf dystopia of baroque touches. Evolutionary therapy has created intelligent animals. (We meet a talking sheep -- who gets murdered, a kitten, an ape, and a vicious, gun-toting kangaroo who the narrator detective kills at the novel’s conclusion.) Cryonic suspension is a punishment. “Babyheads” (all children now have accelerated growth) form their own babbling, beatnik type subculture. Neural surgery permits lovers to exchange sensory input from their genitals. (The hero’s old girlfriend has left him with female type wiring in his genitals while she has his penis wiring.). Memories can be edited. Most significant and disturbing of all, lots of drugs: addictol, Regrettol, Acceptol, Forgettol with effects you’d expect given their names. Technology – of the hardware sort – is relegated to an anti-gravity pen the narrator carries, and he wittingly makes the observation that significant new technology often announces itself in tacky advertising products. Despite all these baroque touches and talking animals, the plot and style (Chandleresque prose is always fun to read because it emphasizes grim, dark humor and dry wit) make it feel like a ‘40s mystery. If I understood Letham’s point, this novel, behind its sf machinery and its Chandleresque plot of a man “neither tarnished nor afraid” prowling “mean streets” (phrases from Chandler), is about a dystopia of alienation. The hero, Conrad Metcalf, is not a private eye but a private Inquisitor; he formerly worked with the official Inquisitors who in this world are the police. Letham depicts a culture of people alienated from each other and reality. It is considered rude for all but Inquisitors to ask questions, so a major fuel of human interaction is missing. Metcalf, because he has the genital nerve wiring of a female, feels alienated from his own sexuality. The murdered Maynard Stanhunt (whose death opens the novel) is alienated from his own past due to heavy use of Forgettol. Indeed, this alienation proves fatal since, through a series of convoluted events, his employee the gun-toting kangaroo, mistakes him for someone else. The populace itself is somewhat divorced from reality since newspapers (in a manner reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) only carry pictures, radio news is usually delivered in music and seldom words. After Metcalf is railroaded into a six year cold sleep sentence, he emerges into an even more grim, bizarre world where “time-release Forgettol” is the drug of choice for the population, where people query memory boxes to see what they do and don’t remember. In such a world, Metcalf can’t bring himself to kill Phoneblum, the object of his intended vengeance, since, to all practical purposes, the old Phoneblum is dead already. Metcalf’s role as an incorruptible figure is further accented when, even though he has a heavy drug habit emphasized from beginning to the very last words of the novel, he refuses to satisfy it with the new personality and memory destroying drugs. He is determined to not only symbolize justice in the world but to be one of the few uncorrupted repositories of past memory. Eventually, he goes back into cold sleep rather than becoming a typical denizen of the world and hopes the world will be better when he wakes up. The only real flaw in this novel is the love triangle between Phoneblum, Maynard Stanhunt, and Celeste Stanlemt is termed as stable before Maynard’s murder but that is never explained nor is Phoneblum’s blackmail hold over Drs. Stanhunt and Testafer.
  • (2/5)
    I just couldn't like this book. Just a little to over the edge. The edge of believable? No I read a lot of unbelievable books. Over the edge of possible? No I read a lot of books with impossible things. It just was not my flavor of unbelievable impossibility. Just too many bunnies and babies.
  • (4/5)
    Book reviews can be difficult, which is why a lot of mine are so amateurish. A professional critic will, without fail, hold a book up to the author’s previous works, examine it through the prism of the zeitgeist, or compare it to works that examine similar themes. Ideally all three. I often wonder where some of these critics, who are often only in their 30s, found the time to have a thorough background in the classics and still speak with authority about the new field of fiction released every year. This is why, when I read a new author, I often feel like I should start with their very first book. I usually don’t, because most writers take a while to hit their stride (see: Peter Carey’s Bliss) but if the concept seems interesting enough – and if it’s an author I want to read, rather than one I just feel obligated to read – I’ll start with their first book.Gun With Occasional Music is a surreal, genre-blending tale of a hardboiled private eye in a dystopian future California. Most of the populace is high on government-supplied, mind-controlling drugs, various species of animals have been evolved to a sapient level, and citizens are all issued with “karma” on their ID cards, which will land them in cryogenic freezing if they reach zero for various petty offences.It’s clear that this is not, from the outset, a properly realised science fiction world. The sci-fi flairs have about as much substance to them as the average pulp detective story. Lethem definitely nails that part on the head, at least – his prose perfectly captures the cynical and depressing world of the private detective, and the protagonist, Conrad Metcalf, is an admirably pathetic loser who’s always ready with a flippant retort. It reminded me of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, in the sense that the familiar trappings served as a solid rock for the reader amid a more unfamiliar setting. It was just pulled off with less style and less sense of purpose. (To be fair, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was written at the height of Chabon’s career, whereas Gun With Occasional Music was Lethem’s first novel).This is not a bad book, but it’s largely forgettable, and I spent a lot of it wondering why Lethem didn’t just write a hardboiled detective novel. His future dystopia is so thinly sketched out that I often felt like it was a tongue-in-cheek allegory for something, but I’m damned if I can figure out what. In any case, even if he wasn’t a prominent novelist nowadays, the gift for prose that he clearly exhibits in Gun With Occasional Music would be enough for me to read his next novel despite this one’s failings.
  • (1/5)
    PI Conrad Metcalf investigates the death of a doctor in a futuristic California where the government distributes mind-numbing drugs and menial work is done by animals. Jail is suspended animation in a freezer and curiosity is banned.
  • (5/5)
    Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music is excellent noir as well as excellent speculation. For once, I think even the back cover synopsis does a good job of introducing the story.
  • (4/5)
    Anthropomorphic apocalyptic sci-fi decective novel? Um, yeah, and Lethem pulls it off with noirish panache. [book:Fortress of Solitude] it ain't, but it beats the pants off most so-called genre fiction.