Jonathan Lethem's Gritty Take on the Golden State

Posted by Goodreads on October 31, 2018
Jonathan Lethem

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For Jonathan Lethem's 11th book, he returns with his first detective novel since the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Motherless Brooklyn. In The Feral Detective he tells the story of a burned-out Manhattan journalist who teams up with an enigmatic private investigator to search for her friend's daughter, who has gone missing in California's unforgiving Mojave Desert. Lethem embraces hard-boiled noir to create a story set in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election full of dangerous cults, communities hiding off the grid, and obscured pasts.

In honor of the book and its stark California setting, Lethem is recommending books that show the gritty side of the Golden State. "These five novels all depict life as it is lived east of the Los Angeles of the public imagination—no Venice Beach or Santa Monica Pier, no Hollywood sign or Beverly Hills mansions," says Lethem. "This is instead the world of the landlocked suburbs and flat, sun-punched towns of the Inland Empire and beyond, into the desert."

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"A harsh, flayed vision of a 1970s coming-of-age set against the genuinely postapocalyptic reality of the people living on the periphery of the abandoned man-made body of water known as the Salton Sea."


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"The town of Pomona is the Oakland of Los Angeles, a flinty, overlooked, blue-collar also-ran with a kind of collapsed glamour. This superb crime novel starts with a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman recognizing a bully from his high school days and shifts into a gritty, waking nightmare."


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"A wild noir vision of the Mojave Desert, encompassing runaways, feral children, and a pair of freakishly dark and funny hit men who mostly hit only themselves."


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"A late-in-life masterpiece by the paranoid SF master, A Scanner Darkley is also a remarkably scrupulous vision of the under-the-radar life of the Los Angeles satellite towns of Orange County, like Fullerton and Santa Ana, where Dick lived out the last part of his beleaguered life."


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"A great Brooklyn novelist who went west to write for the movies and never returned, Fuchs managed just one further novel, this caustic, knowing tale of a Hollywood actress who makes a desperate bid for freedom in Palm Springs and the men who try to drag her back to the prison of her career."


Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Gerald (new)

Gerald For non-fiction, you can't beat David Kulcyzk's books:
California's Deadliest Women
Death In California
California Fruits, Flakes & Nuts
California Justice
and the just published Forgotten Sacramento Murders


message 2: by Glenn (new)

Glenn What about Already Dead by Denis Johnson?


message 3: by Steve (new)

Steve Elworth And for non fiction, Mike Davis starting with City of quarts. Just skip over the parts that he writes about other areas of LA


message 4: by Carol (last edited Nov 01, 2018 09:56AM) (new)

Carol Christopher Moore, anyone? In particular, his latest - Noir


message 5: by Bill (new)

Bill Michelle Richmond - Golden State.


message 6: by Randy (new)

Randy To go back farther, nobody has bested Raymond Chandler.


message 7: by Sherrill (new)

Sherrill Hagenson Pretty much anything by T. Jefferson Parker-especially Little Saigon and Pacific Beat. The wonderful classic noir private-eye novels of the brilliant Stephen Greenleaf. All of Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone novels. And Richard Barre's Santa Barbara-set mysteries. . All well worth the read.


message 8: by Geoff (new)

Geoff Bukowski, anyone?

Post Office or Ham on Rye


message 9: by Tab (new)

Tab Hunter Also, Kem Nunn’s atmospheric mystery Unassigned Territory.


message 10: by Brian (new)

Brian John Fante's Ask the Dust is the missing link between Steinbeck and Bukowski.


message 11: by Crash (new)

Crash Sheesh, leaving out the marvelous Denis Johnson novels...


message 12: by Todd (new)

Todd R. Gunderson I like to introduce Benjamin Weissman to Lethem fans, as often as I can, when talking about authors with my book-hooked friends. Benjamin Weissman has a couple of collections of short stories that aren't too hard to find. I think there is a common thread to them both. You?


message 13: by Pat Cummings (new)

Pat Cummings I'm coming late to this discussion, but I heartily recommend the wonderful Forensic Geology series by Toni Dwiggins, especially the first three, which are located in California:
Quicksilver (a mystery in Mother Lode country)
Badwater (set in Death Valley)
Volcano Watch (rumblings underground at Mammoth Lakes)


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