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Gun, with Occasional Music (Harvest Book) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Lethem
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chandleresque, hard-boiled detective narrative finds a quirky new milieu in this SF/mystery/farce of murder and mass mind control set in a near-future Oakland, Calif. Conrad Metcalf is a private dick, but in his era that profession is even more ignominious than in the past. Due to some extreme governmental measures aimed at maintaining public docility, asking questions is taboo, leaving memory as Metcalf's sole resource. Government-distributed "Make," a cocaine-like blend of synthetic, mind-altering drugs, is now de rigeur . So is the magnetic card each citizen carries to keep track of his or her karma points. These points are awarded or docked by "the Office" for good or bad behavior and if the balance hits zero, a cryogenic prison term may ensue. Most of the menial work is done by genetically engineered English-speaking, bipedal "evolved" animals--sheep, apes, rabbits and kangaroos--and one of the latter is gunning for Metcalf. In this confusing age, the murder of Dr. Maynard Stanhunt, Metcalf's former client, leads the detective to a convoluted conspiracy, unimaginable in our own time. Lethem's invocation of Chandler often wears a bit thin--the prose here is a good deal clumsier than the real thing, and this sort of imitation has already been done too often. Still this colorful first novel is a fast and lively read, full of humorous visions and outlandish predicaments.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 455 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0156028972
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004H1U2MO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,266 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir, With Frequent Weirdness July 28, 2003
Format:Paperback
"Gun, With Occasional Music" is my first Jonathan Lethem book, and it certainly won't be my last. Although reading just one of his books hardly ranks me as an expert on his career, I will say that this story about a private detective in a future, dystopian nightmare will probably be one of the most unusual experiences you'll ever have with a book (unless you make a habit of reading quirky, ultra bizarre fiction). Lethem must have been the product of a union between Raymond Chandler and William Burroughs, with genetic material donated by Dashiell Hammett and Aldous Huxley. That's the only way to describe this amazing blend of noir, science fiction, and political commentary. "Gun, With Occasional Music" is the type of book you introduce your friends to in order to see their reaction after they finish it.
Lethem's future is one in which I would not want to visit, let alone live in. For private investigator Conrad Metcalf, this nightmare is the only world he knows. What's so bad about this author's horrific visions? In the world of tomorrow, society is quite different from the world we know. For one thing, animals (rabbits, sheep, kangaroos, and cats) now walk upright, speak, commit crimes, and work. It's all a part of what authorities call "evolving," and it isn't just about the animals. Human infants take part in the hijinks as well, since society decided that it takes too long for people to grow up. The result is "babyheads," infants that speak, smoke, and drink thanks to massive infusions of growth hormones. As if that's not enough to cause you screaming fits, and apparently many of the people in this brave new world feel like screaming about it, the authorities provide "make," a drug used to modify behavior.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling February 27, 2000
Format:Paperback
After reading Letham's less-than-coherent "Amnesia Moon," I almost made the mistake of not reading him again, but a couple of reviews posted here convinced me otherwise. This book was magnificent: brilliant ideas and brilliant writing. I'm just surprised that I hadn't heard more about this author, because this work is far superior to most modern fiction I've read. Not being much of a genre fan myself, it was nice to see a hard-boiled detective story in a sci-fi (though entirely conceivable sci-fi) setting. Rich, developed characters (be they detectives, doctors, evolved apes or tiny mental giants) and a thick plot with no holes in the story to worry about. Be forwarned, its a real page-turner, and not something you want to pick up unless you've got a day or two free.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Most, But Not Lethem's Best August 2, 2001
Format:Paperback
I guess I hold a minority view here, I was somewhat disappointed by "Gun, With Occasional Music."
The "comic noir" angle seemed overplayed, and the "forced evolution" trick served no real purpose I could discern. All the audaciousness and bold experimentation we've come to expect from Lethem was here (in spades... Sam Spades) but unlike, say, "Girl In Landscape" or "The Wall of the Sky" in this book they just made it seem mannered and self-conscious.
Still a very entertaining read, and way beyond run-of-the-mill, but as someone who has written some of the most inventive current fiction, he has far outdone this book in later works.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket. January 23, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I read this book in one sitting, feeling like I had snorted a mixtue of Regrettol and Addictol, two of the many govenment-sponsored drugs made available for free to citizens of this future world. The narrator's personal blend of drugs was "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." The blend he delivered to me, however, was light on the Acceptol.
This bittersweet story would be too depressing to recommend to anyone were it not for the humor, which had me laughing out loud. Metcalf and the kangaroo are worth reading again and again, but with little jokes like Testafer "Here's a tip, Grover. You're supposed to go first-" "Shut up." Well, I'd tried to warn him" I was reading dectective fiction as good as Chandler, to whom the book is inscribed.
This is some of the best fiction I've ever read and I recommend it highly.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, with occasional confusion March 16, 2000
Format:Paperback
"You got SF tropes in my hardboiled crime story!" "No, you got a detective story in my dystopian-future novel!"
As others have said, this book is excellent, and definitely worth the read (the style alone is worth the price of admission, even if you ultimately decide you didn't like the admittedly tough-to-favor story.) However, I feel compelled to interject that I thought its focus tended to waver. Most of the book was a detective novel; but there were several portions that abandoned that storyline entirely and just wandered off into worldbuilding. Indeed, this book would have been nearly the same if the often murkily-explained SF stuff had been removed entirely. (it took me a while to figure out exactly what a babyhead was, and I'm still unclear on why people thought it was a good idea to make so many of them.)
However, the SF portions of the story _do_ serve well to make the setting more bizarre, and separate from the real world--and that's what books are all about. I'd have just liked to see better integration between the setting and the plot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars I don't know if he liked it, or not
I had to give this book a rating in order to post my message even though I haven't read it. I purchased it as a gift for a friend. I don't know if he liked it, or not.
Published 11 days ago by Iris B.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my all-time favorite debut novels
One of my all-time favorite debut novels!

Evolved hit-men kangaroos? Musical interpretations of the morning news? This isn’t your father’s noir. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Richard Due
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a fun read, but there's that, too.
In the future as invented by Jonathan Lethem, San Francisco is full of musical tones installed in appliances and objects which sound when they are touched. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Cheshire
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
not my kind of thing
Published 29 days ago by Ann Batchelor
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Classic
I would never have picked up this book/heard of it/read it if it wasn't for some online hipster book club I was in at the time, but I'm really glad I did because I think it should... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Allison Burke
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun little neo-noir
I enjoyed the style of writing and the universe Lethem builds, with its genetic freaks and heady concepts. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sully
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I'll start by saying that I read Motherless Brooklyn and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I found this book a disappointment. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Guy Randell
3.0 out of 5 stars Still digesting the novel
I read this a couple of weeks ago, and my review fluctuates between "liked it a lot" and "didn't work for me."

So, an intriguing book. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kinky Geek
5.0 out of 5 stars How can you solve a murder when no one remembers anything?
The news is given as music, police are called Inquisitors, and a justice system where bad karma gets you turned into an icicle. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Monster Alice
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I read this a long time ago.
I picked this up a few years ago but didn't really get into it at the time because this world was so strange. Huge miss on my part. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Paul O.
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More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger.

He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine.

His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's and many other periodicals.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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