Petty hoodlum turned owner of a small time detective agency, Frank Minna assembled a team of four orphans and made them his loyal servants: the Minna Men. When Frank is stabbed to death on what was supposed to be a routine job, Lionel, one of the four, is determined to track down Frank's killer and avenge his death. One thing makes this something of a problem--Lionel has Tourette's syndrome, a collection of tics and compulsions which make him constantly break out in nonsense syllables or cause him to touch every object he sees. His advantage is that most people confuse his disability with stupidity; when he gets up a head of steam, the large slow-moving Lionel is extremely formidable. Taking us from a Zen study centre to a dangerous car park on the New England coast, Motherless Brooklyn
is at the same time a brilliantly characterised detective novel and an inventive exploration of a particular tone of voice.
"Meanwhile, beneath that frozen shell, a sea of language was reaching full boil. It became harder and harder not to notice that when a television pitchman said 'to last the rest of a lifetime' my brain went 'to rest the lust of a loaf tomb' that when I heard 'Alfred Hitchcock', I silently replied 'Altered House clock' or 'Ilford Hotchkiss'."
What might have been exploitative--the portrayal of Lionel and his compulsions--is attractive, affirming and compassionate. The sense of Brooklyn as a city full of borderlines between communities, the legal and the illegal, life and death, is overwhelming. --Roz Kaveney
"The best novel of the year. . . . Utterly original and deeply moving." --Esquire
"Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora." --Newsweek
"Finding out whodunit is interesting enough, but it's more fun watching Lethem unravel the mysteries of his Tourettic creation. In this case, it takes one trenchant wordsmith to know another." --Time
"Immerses us in the mind's dense thicket, a place where words split and twine in an ever-deepening tangle." --The New York Times Book Review
"Who but Jonathan Lethem would attempt a half-satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story narrated by an amateur detective with Tourette's syndrome?...The dialogue crackles with caustic hilarity...Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artisit...Unexpectedly moving." --The Boston Globe
"With one unique and well-imagined character, Jonathan Lethem has turned a genre on its ear. He doesn't just push the envelope, he gives it a swift kick... A tour de force." --The Denver Post
"Wonderfully inventive, slightly absurdist... [Motherless Brooklyn
] is funny and sly, clever, compelling, and endearing." --USA Today