Only Jonathan Lethem could turn an homage to the classic noir style into a wildly inventive exploration of language, loyalty, and the principles of Zen Buddhism. Lethem’s fascination with noir played a major role in his debut novel, Gun, with Occasional Music. In Motherless Brooklyn, the reader is treated to a gritty interpretation of noir filtered through an unforgettable narrator—Lionel Essrog. As always, Lethem’s writing is superb, and the construction of Lionel’s narrative voice is a rare accomplishment.
Lionel Essrog is an inexperienced detective who has a complicated relationship with language. Lionel is always looking for an antidote – some sensation or substance that will temporarily quell the feral language percolating in his brain. White Castle hamburgers can have therapeutic properties, and fear will work in a pinch. But Lionel’s mind always reverts back to an intricate arrangement of associative tics, repetition, and wordplay.
Jean Spangler disappeared on the night of October 7, 1949. She applied her lipstick, straightened the seams on her stockings and kissed her daughter good-bye. Jean was beautiful and ambitious - and was never seen again after that night. Her broken purse and a cryptic note, found in a park, were the only clues. The case has never been solved.
In Gun, with Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem blends dystopia and noir in order to depict the Oakland of the future: a surreal world where the written word is obsolete and animals wear clothes and behave as humans. It’s also a place where corrupt Inquisitors run amok and one’s social standing is determined by “karma points.”
In the midst of this disorienting environment, Conrad Metcalf is a reassuringly anachronistic figure. Rather than serving the monolithic institution known as the Office, he embraces his own brand of investigation, walking the streets and asking questions as a Private Inquisitor. The Office has tolerated his presence and unorthodox methods, but their complacency evaporates once Conrad starts working for a new client: Orton Angwine.
Rupert Holmes’ Swing has more than a touch of noir—and its own soundtrack. Set in San Francisco in 1940, vagabond jazz musician Ray Sherwood has been made a very interesting proposition. A beautiful, young Berkley music student wants him in a most peculiar way. She’s won an international contest for composers, and her piece needs to premiere at the Golden Gate Exposition in just a few weeks. What she needs from Ray are his talents to orchestrate her music for many instruments. Ray is enchanted by Gail’s breezy joie de vivre and her snappy patter even as his own troubled past makes him hesitate. But the tenor veers from sweet romance to dangerous liaison when a lovely woman plunges to her death mere feet from the happy couple, changing this composition’s theme from serenade to police siren.