Research Report: Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

I am currently doing research for my next novel, the first installment in a private detective mystery series set in a near-future America where many laws allow citizens to file lawsuits against those who violate these statutes. In these research reports, I summarize what I’m reading and how that book helped me think about my project. In this report: Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem.

Cover of Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Why I Read It:

This novel is consistently listed as one of the best examples of dystopian/sci-fi detective fiction. I wanted to see what aspects made it a standout in the genre.

What I Learned:

The hallmarks of hard-boiled detective fiction remain consistent whether the setting is 1930s Los Angeles or near-future Oakland: a scarred, stoic, dogged investigator, a corrupt society, a few potential—but ultimately doomed—romantic interests, and a bleak view of humanity with only a few redeeming characters.

My Biggest Takeaway:

The tone of this novel is consistent with what I envision for my series. I like the way Lethem drops in various elements of his imagined future society without giving us a blow-by-blow account of how that future came to be. But I prefer a stronger connection with, and critique of, contemporary society, à la dystopian classics like 1984 and Brave New World.

Who Would Like It:

Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction open to exploring different time periods and settings.

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