Gun, with Occasional Music

Gun, with Occasional Music


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Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems-not the least of which are the rabbit in his waiting room and the trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is an ominous place where evolved animals function as members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage. In this brave new world, Metcalf has been shadowing the wife of an affluent doctor, perhaps falling a little in love with her at the same time. But when the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in the crossfire in a futuristic world that is both funny-and not so funny.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780792750567
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 12/01/2007
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.50(h) x 5.00(d)

About the Author

JONATHAN LETHEM is the author of several novels, including Motherless Brooklyn; The Fortress of Solitude;Gun, with Occasional Music; and Dissident Gardens.


New York, New York

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


Left Bennington College after two years

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1


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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Gun, with Occasional Music 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
misericordia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
burningtodd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Move_and_Merge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
ragwaine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cool original ideas, cool plot, funny and dark
mathrocks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
g026r on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
jorgearanda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
PaulBerauer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"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.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The conceit is an interesting one: a hard-boiled detective story set in a near future where ¿evolved¿ talking, dressed, career-driven animals are the norm, punishment for crimes consists of cold storage (literally), and asking questions is terribly rude unless you have an investigator¿s license. However, the execution leaves a little to be desired. Why wouldn¿t an evolved animal, such as a kangaroo, make use of its assets more when in a tight spot, such as those killer feet? What significance does crime-solving have in a world where you can forget the day¿s events by snorting the legal and encouraged drug Forgettol? Or maybe the hard-boiled detective novel doesn¿t really hold my interest under any circumstances. Regardless, this one is entertaining enough for a throwaway novel, which is all it aims to be.
jediphil683 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Certainly one of the more gleefully weird books I've come across in the remaindered section. I think he relies on his idea to carry his writing a little more than he should, but it's a strong idea, so we should forgive him for that, and enjoy reading the book anyway.
reverends on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
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It was an okay read. There were a lot of random things that the story could have done without.
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Toby_Gray More than 1 year ago
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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crazylilcuban More than 1 year ago
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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