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THE FERAL DETECTIVE

A haunting tour of the gulf between the privileged and the dispossessed.

Lethem (A Gambler’s Anatomy, 2016, etc.) returns with his first surrealistic, genre-bending detective novel since Motherless Brooklyn (1999).

Having long abandoned Brooklyn for the West Coast, Lethem has written a hallucinatory novel set in the desert fringes of the Inland Empire in California. Readers, many of whom should be absorbed by this story, will soon realize the author has more to say about the current state of America and his deeply fractured heroine than lies on the surface. Our narrator is Phoebe Siegler, once a bourgeois Manhattanite with a sarcastic streak, now unmoored by the last presidential election. Trying to break her malaise, she travels to Los Angeles at the behest of a friend whose teenage daughter has disappeared during a Leonard Cohen–inspired pilgrimage to Mount Baldy. She’s referred to private detective Charles Heist, a “fiftyish cowboyish fellow” dubbed “The Feral Detective” for his predilection for saving strays, be they kids or animals. What might have devolved into a Coen Brothers–esque farce instead offers a dark reflection on human nature as Heist introduces Phoebe to something like a cult living on the fringes of society—what might happen if hippies and outcasts left civilization, never to return, devolving into a tribal, ritualistic culture tinged with conspiracy theory. It’s a place where the seemingly laconic Heist has deep roots and a culture where his mere presence yields disturbing violence. There’s not really a mystery to solve, and the sexual tension between Phoebe and Heist feels obligatory, but Lethem fills his canvas with tinder-dry tension. The subtext is the division in American society, but the personal nature of Phoebe’s tectonic shift in the desert is palpable, made flesh by Lethem’s linguistic alchemy. “Old fears had flown the coop without my noticing and been replaced: I was positively aching to abscond into the Mojave again, the fewer road signs the better,” she says. “No cities for me now, or families or tribes.”

A haunting tour of the gulf between the privileged and the dispossessed.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-285906-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2018

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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