A brilliantly imagined riff on the classic detective tale: the fifth high-energy novel in five years from the rapidly maturing prodigy whose bizarre black-comic fiction includes, most recently, Girl in Landscape (1998). Lethem’s delirious yarn about crime, pursuit, and punishment, is narrated in a unique voice by its embattled protagonist, Brooklynite (and orphan) Lionel Essrog, a.k.a. “Freakshow.” Lionel’s moniker denotes the Tourette’s syndrome that twists his speech into weird aslant approximations (his own name, for example, is apt to come out “Larval Pushbug” or “Unreliable Chessgrub”) and induces a tendency to compulsive behavior (“reaching, tapping, grabbing and kissing urges”) that makes him useful putty in the hands of Frank Minna, an enterprising hood who recruits teenagers (like Lionel) from St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, to move stolen goods and otherwise function as apprentice-criminal “Minna Men.” The daft plot—which disappears for a while somewhere around the middle of the novel—concerns Minna’s murder and Lionel’s crazily courageous search for the killer, an odyssey that brings him into increasingly dangerous contact with two elderly Italian men (“The Clients”) who have previously employed the Minna Men and now pointedly advise Lionel to abandon his quest; Frank’s not-quite-bereaved widow Julia (a tough-talking dame who seems to have dropped in from a Raymond Chandler novel) at the Zendo, a dilapidated commune where meditation and other Buddhist techniques are taught; a menacing “Polish giant”; and, on Maine’s Muscongus Island, a lobster pound and Japanese restaurant that front for a sinister Oriental conglomerate. The resulting complications are hilariously enhanced by Lionel’s “verbal Tourette’s flowering”—a barrage of sheer rhetorical invention that has tour de force written all over it; it’s an amazing stunt, and, just when you think the well is running dry, Lethem keeps on topping himself. Another terrific entertainment from Lethem, one of contemporary fiction’s most inspired risk-takers. Don’t miss this one.