Gun, with Occasional Music

( 15 )

Overview

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.
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 ...

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Gun, with Occasional Music

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Overview

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

While shadowing the wife of an affluent urologist, a hapless private eye falls in love with her. When the doctor turns up dead, the P.I. finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor's Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of the Fickle Muse.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC
"Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision . . . An audaciously assured first novel."-Newsweek

"Marvelous . . . Stylish, intelligent, darkly humorous and highly readable entertainment."-San Francisco Examiner

PRAISE FOR MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
"The best novel of the year . . . Utterly original and deeply moving."-Esquire

"Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora."-Newsweek

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lethem's first novel is a work of noir science fiction inhabited by animal gangsters and a gritty futuristic P.I. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Private detective Conrad Metcalf finds himself the victim of an official inquisition when the murder of a former client and an obvious cover-up attempt lead him into dangerous political territory. Set in a near-future where only police and detectives are licensed to ask questions and where drugs to suppress memory are commonplace, this first novel imparts a new meaning to the word mystery . Spare prose and tight plotting create a taut sf thriller that should appeal to both sf and mystery fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156028974
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 626,939
  • Product dimensions: 7.96 (w) x 5.26 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan  Lethem

JONATHAN LETHEM is the author of six novels, including Motherless Brooklyn ,The Fortress of Solitude , and Gun, with Occasional Music . He lives in Brooklyn.

Biography

The son of artists and activists, Jonathan Lethem has always been surrounded by art and archetypes. His father, avant-garde painter Richard Brown Lethem, ensured that the household was always bustling with fellow artists, live nude models, and a creative spirit. Despite the nurturing, artistic setting, Lethem's teen years were demanding -- his mother died of cancer when he was 14, and the streets of his Brooklyn neighborhood forced him to toughen up at a young age.

Lethem's Brooklyn is rich with history and stories. Much of the world knows Brooklyn through the movies and television -- as an urban maze just outside the glitter of Manhattan. But Lethem's novels deliver a more emotional and brutal reality of the streets he called home (and still does). The Brooklyn culture of his childhood became the sidewalk on which he built his critically acclaimed Motherless Brooklyn, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Lethem attended the High School for Music and Art in NYC, where he studied painting but began to hone his love of literature. An insatiable reader, he read the classic and the contemporary, including Kerouac, Mailer, Vonnegut, Chandler, Dostoevsky, Orwell, and Kafka. While still in high school, he finished a 125-page novel called Heroes. It was never published but is rumored to be the earliest form of what became The Fortress of Solitude.

After high school, Lethem attended Bennington College in Vermont but dropped out after the first semester to work on his writing. He returned to Bennington briefly, but eventually made the move to California, hitchhiking his way across the country to arrive in Berkeley in 1984. This experience, and the years he spent in San Francisco, provided the inspiration for his first three novels, Amnesia Moon(1995), As She Climbed Across the Table (1997), and Girl in Landscape (1998).

In late 1996, Lethem moved back to Brooklyn and began writing the book that would put him on the lips of every publisher and reader in the country. When Motherless Brooklyn was released in 1999, readers fell in love with its fascinating lead characters, relentless plot, and detailed setting. It was an instant success and won many awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Lethem's long-awaited next novel, The Fortress of Solitude, hit the shelves four years later, in 2003. He conducted a lot of research for the book, gaining yet another perspective on his beloved hometown. The novel is again set in Brooklyn, on Dean Street, where Lethem grew up. Over three decades, the two lead characters -- Dylan and Mingus -- experience the world through the prisms of race relations, music, and pop culture in a disturbing and compelling story of loyalty and loss, vulnerability and superhero powers.

Outside of novels, Lethem has published short fiction and lent his editing talents to a number of projects. Odd and shocking, This Shape We're In (an extended short story) is about an unforgettable trip to the hospital. The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye is a collection of seven short stories about everything from clones to professional basketball. Lethem and coauthor Carter Scholz have fun with the master of the bizarre in Kafka Americana: Fiction, a book of short stories with Kafka as the main character navigating absurd situations. Lethem edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, short stories about the art of forgetting by such authors as Philip K. Dick, Martin Amis, and Shirley Jackson. He was guest editor of The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, essays by writers on music.

Good To Know

Lethem's original artistic impulse was to be a painter. While he remains a talented graphic artist, he first acknowledged his deep desire to write while at Bennington, where fellow classmates included Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt.

Before he was a published writer, Lethem's only other jobs were in bookstores. His first bookstore job was at age 13, and he supported himself this way up to 1994 when his first novel was published. In San Francisco, he worked at the well-known Moe's Books, home of rare and antique tomes.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jonathan Allan Lethem (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Left Bennington College after two years

Read an Excerpt

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.

Copyright © 1994 by Jonathan Lethem

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2012

    Eh

    It was an okay read. There were a lot of random things that the story could have done without.

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  • Posted September 27, 2011

    Lethem's excellent debut

    Jonathan Lethem tackles reality on a vector, not unlike how Kurt Vonnegut did, and with perpetual wry charm. In the future world herein portrayed, criminals are frozen rather than imprisoned, and thawed years down the road for a second chance. "Evolved" animals combine human intellect with their native animal characteristics. Lethem's main character, a human private detective, has as his nemesis a brutal kangaroo. Quite a kick! Chronic City and As She Climbed Across the Table are other Lethem favorites of mine.

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  • Posted December 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Dystopian noir detective, with a dash of sci-fi.

    An excellent, excellent book. "Gun, with Occasional Music" is a sci-fi noir detective novel with a little bit of a dystopian future thrown in for good measure. Set in near-future Oakland, the book revolves around Private Inquisistor Conrad Metcalf in a time when questions are rude and require a license to ask, mind-altering drugs are provided by some semblance of a government, and evolution therapy means that babies become babyheads with their own culture and intelligence and that animals can be evolved to walk on two feet and hold conversation. There's even a gangster kangaroo and an ape P.I. Bad guys can be frozen to do their time, and guns sometimes come with occasional music. Clearly there's a bit of sci-fi involved in the premise, but it's great because it's hardly noticeable within the great detective story. There's a nice twist at the end, and all in all the book is a great read. Not five stars, but not too shabby at all. Ultimately, I thought Lethem's writing was just fantastic; the book sat on the edge between a fairly light-hearted mystery and social commentary, and his writing both kept me involved in the story and moved it along quickly.

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  • Posted March 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Jonathan Lethem is one of a kind

    This was strangely fascinating. It's nice to have a book that makes you think, while still staying fantasy-like.

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