Thursday, September 06, 2012

Review: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn is a unique look at noir detective fiction. The protagonist in this detective novel is an orphan with Tourette's Syndrome. The story starts off with a murder and we follow Lionel as he seeks to unravel the mystery. He is an orphan working with three other orphans at a detective agency; hence the "Motherless" moniker. The detective agency is run by Frank Minna, who also dabbles in jobs for mafiosos, providing the main crux of the story.

Lethem writes a compelling story with a unique twist, but he does not rely on the novelty of Tourette's. It is a noir fiction with contemporary style; however, as it is published in 1999 it lacks some of the more modern devices used by detectives such as cell phones or Google. One of the main plot points is when Lionel remembers to grab a beeper that has been left behind. So it's a little dated. Nonetheless, the narrative is gripping and features several noir staples, primarily the self-destructive protagonist. Lionel is consistently on the verge of discovery as he seeks the secrets leading to the murder. There is also the stock characters as the old mafioso, the moll, the hired gun, and the hidden financier. Who to trust? In the end, Lionel must learn to trust himself (sounds cheesy and obvious, but it works).

Overall, Motherless Brooklyn was a compelling read. It probably went a chapter or two beyond necessity, but it was a good twist on the classic noir novels of Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler. Three and a half inappropriate outbursts out of five.

Read more about Lethem at his website.

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