For better and worse, this is the closest Pynchon is likely to come to a beach book.
A psychedelic beach book, of course: It’s hippie-era Los Angeles, and our hero smokes marijuana the way others smoke cigarettes, which is something of an occupational hazard in a profession that requires deductive abilities. About a third the length of its predecessor (Against the Day, 2006, etc.) and as breezy as a detective novel by Tom Robbins, the book begins with a beautiful woman walking into the office of private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello to ask for help. Formerly Doc’s girlfriend, Shasta has been associating more recently with Mickey Wolfmann, a very rich and married developer whom Doc knows from the newspapers as “the real estate big shot.” Mickey’s wife and her lover apparently want him institutionalized, but as usual in a Pynchon novel, there are conspiracies atop conspiracies as Doc tries to get to the people who are running the people who seem to be running things. With Charlie Manson poisoning the free-love ethos and land-grab developers putting the soul of Southern California up for grabs, Doc finds himself enmeshed deeper in a plot that defies resolution. The mystery focuses on the Golden Fang, which may be a schooner, a heroin cartel, an enterprise of “vertical integration” or a vast international conspiracy. Maybe all of the above. The story will make the most sense to those as stoned as Doc, though it’s hard to resist questions like, “Anybody understand why they call it ‘real’ estate?” or a simile such as “the figure dropped like an acid tab into the mouth of Time”—highly appropriate for a protagonist who tends to divide the totality of experience into “groovy” and “bummer.” Or, once, for emphasis, “Bumm. Er.”
Groovier than much of this erratic author’s fiction, but a bummer compared with his best.