It’s another day at the office for PI Conrad Metcalf. The timid and ineffective Orton Angwine has been accused of murder and wants Metcalf to clear his name. But Angwine’s obviously a fool: in trouble with the law, with the criminals he claims have set him up, and with several women who may be femme fatales. Angwine’s likely to be put away before he can pay, and taking his case will bring Metcalf trouble from the corrupt police who already hassle him. But a case is a case, and Metcalf can’t afford to turn away business, even when it’s obviously bad.
If you think this sounds like hundreds of other noir novels, you’re right… but also very wrong. In Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music, the glib-talking, hard-living detective and the crime are familiar, but the setting is anything but. Metcalf works in an alternate future where children (babyheads) and animals (evolved) have been genetically accelerated to adult levels. In particular, Metcalf keeps running into an evolved kangaroo named Joey Castle who works as an enforcer for the man he suspects has set Angwine up. Everyone in this future is addicted to emotion- and memory-altering drugs, including Metcalf. Everyone keeps a card which tracks their karma, and crime and other misdeeds are punished by deletion of points. If one reaches zero, one is put in cryogenic freeze to sleep off the debt to society. Both Angwine and Metcalf have dwindling karma: They could go away at any moment.
These are just a few of the fascinating twists in a novel that blends science fiction and mystery. Metcalf’s voice pays homage to hard-boiled heroes of the past, but his patter is all his own, and if you’re like me, you’ll look forward to every word that comes out of his mouth. Funny, exciting, and set in a thought-provoking version of the future, Gun, with Occasional Music is an unusual novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished.
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