GUN WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, Jonathan Lethem from Deborah (Debby) Atkinson,
Years ago, I was browsing a San Francisco bookstore when someone recommended a book that looked pretty quirky to my unfamiliar eye. It was Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994, and I'd never heard of Jonathan Lethem. After I read Gun, I started paying attention.
I write crime fiction, so about 75% of what I read is in that genre, and I use that term inclusively: mystery, thriller, suspense, and so on. Every now and then, I read sci-fi, which if it's good, is beyond good—it's fantastic. These finds seem rarer than the fantastic mystery/suspense novel, though maybe I'm just inexperienced, and someone here can point me in the right direction.
With Gun, with Occasional Music, Lethem did it all. He captured Raymond Chandler's noir setting and injected the futuristic pessimism of Philip K. Dick, with a dash here and there of Frank Herbert's Dune (mind altering, government-issued drugs), and compelling animal protagonists à la Eric Garcia. Gun has sheep, apes, rabbits, and other species, all "evolved" to speak English and make protagonist Conrad Metcalf's life more difficult. Wait until you meet Joey Castle, the enforcer kangaroo.
Best of all, though, are characters that are original, appealing, and sympathetic. The dialogue crackles, the scenes are intense, and you'll love Metcalf despite his foibles.
I also loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (1999), but this one made more of a splash in the mystery community, so I probably don't have to sing its praises quite as loudly. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Motherless, has Tourette's syndrome. Yet Essrog's outbursts ring with not only profanity, but brilliance, heart, and desperation. The dialogue and characters are outstanding. The writing is inspirational, poetic at times. And the mystery ain't bad, either.
I hope you enjoy Lethem's work as much as I do.
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