What happens if you take the classic noir detective story and put it into an American future characterized by perverse pleasure? You get this novel.
First the positive. If you like a traditional tough-guy detective story told in the first person, this has got that. It’s even set in the Bay Area and incorporates all of the necessary elements, damsels in distress, a seductress, tough guys jawing at one another, a morally flawed main character, etc. In fact, early on in the book I thought that I would rate it fairly high simply because Jonathan Lethem had done such a tremendous job of matching the trope. I was particularly taken with his deft touch on the snappy tough-guy repartee, if this were a movie there would be many quotable lines.
That said, I found it a little lacking at points. Frankly there were a few times where the book just lost my attention. These times seemed to be primarily where he left the main detective plot line and immersed the reader in world building. More importantly, I could never quite figure out how the world Lethem created served the story. For instance, you can expect the main character in this type of novel to hit the bottle or have an addiction, but everyone had an addiction and I’m still wondering how, other than occasionally making some people harder to question, that served the story. Another example of this was a series of genetically mutated animals. They were an interesting set of characters to play with and read about, but I can’t say that I felt like they added depth to the plot in any significant way, which I see as a strong negative in a murder mystery. There was also a backdrop of Karma Points, which when it was first introduced I thought was an interesting concept, but it just never seemed to go anywhere intriguing.
As I think this through, it seems to me that the writer must have wanted to write a noir detective story, which is cool. Then he decided to place the story in a really funky world and the problem is that the world doesn’t end up facilitating the story, it came off to me as simply arbitrary.
Don’t get me wrong because of the strong first-person narration and appropriate incorporation of the genre’s tropes, it is an entertaining read. It just falls a little short in the end. My official rating for this is 3.5 stars, but since most sites won’t let you do half a star I’ll click the three star button on the sites because I simply do not feel strongly enough about it to make it four stars.