The Feral Detective a novel

by Jonathan Lethem

Book, 2018



Call number




New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018


Jonathan Lethem's first detective novel since Motherless Brooklyn "One of America's greatest storytellers." --Washington Post Phoebe Siegler first meets Charles Heist in a shabby trailer on the eastern edge of Los Angeles. She's looking for her friend's missing daughter, Arabella, and hires Heist to help. A laconic loner who keeps his pet opossum in a desk drawer, Heist intrigues the sarcastic and garrulous Phoebe. Reluctantly, he agrees to help. The unlikely pair navigate the enclaves of desert-dwelling vagabonds and find that Arabella is in serious trouble--caught in the middle of a violent standoff that only Heist, mysteriously, can end. Phoebe's trip to the desert was always going to be strange, but it was never supposed to be dangerous. . . . Jonathan Lethem's first detective novel since Motherless Brooklyn, The Feral Detective is a singular achievement by one of our greatest writers.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member sharonstern
The main character is one of the worst-written female characters I've read. She lives only for male attention, immediately needing to sleep with the titular detective for no apparent reason other than he's there. She's like the Edmund Hillary of hookups. Her inner monologues fail the Bechdel Test.
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As frustrating as all of that is, what really bothered me was Lethem's complete indifference to the details of how a woman might live. The character frequently mentions her purse, which makes an appearance in any situation -- hiking through the desert with no water, for example -- leaving me to wonder what _kind_ of purse it was. A clutch, a hobo, a tote, a satchel, a cross-body? A young Manhattanite working in media would have vocabulary for this. She would not say "purse". And, she would not call her toiletry bag a "Dopp kit". A simple Google search would have confirmed this for the author, but it seems like he didn't even clock the need to investigate what his character's reality might be like. Consequently, she doesn't read like any known human being, and the book is an unsatisfying and disappointing read.
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LibraryThing member MM_Jones
A riff on Raymond Chandler's detective novels featuring a sardonic, first-person voice. Entertaining, but didn't meet my expectations. The reviews led one to believe this was something new and different. But the narrator was just another yappy, self-absorbed city person. A book jacket blurb
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compared the detective (Heist) to MacDonald's Travis McGee. Unfortunately the detective was a man of few words and not the main character. The setting in eastern California is the most interesting part.
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LibraryThing member BillieBook
I really liked it, but I don't quite know what to think of it. It's a bit of an old-fashioned detective novel, but told from the POV of the dame who into the P.I.'s office looking for help and insists on inserting herself into the investigation rather than just leaving him to do his job. But it's
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also an examination? meditation? take-down? of the "us vs. them" mentality of American life post-election. It's kind of messy and occasionally rambling and sometimes wanders off the trail, which makes it a lot like life. And while, in retrospect, that messiness is part of what makes the novel work, while I was reading it sometimes got frustrating.

Also: YAY, Doggos!
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LibraryThing member elizapoppy
Such an enchanting and very different environment for a mystery story.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is my 6th novel by Lethem. The first 3 were outstanding, The last 3 not so. Feral Detective is about an early thirties woman(Phoebe) who quits her job at the New York times in disgust over the election of Trump. She goes out to the inland empire of California east of L.A to find her good
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friend's 18 year old daughter who has left college and disappeared but may be in the Inland Empire. Having a female narrator in a book written by a man can work but not does so in this book. As usual Lethem has great prose with wonderful lines and lots of good humor. However having great dessert does not make a great meal. There were a lot of elements of the story that I found appealing, but the detective story did not work as such and the off the grid us versus them theme didn't add anything new to our ongoing national debate. For those who have not read any Lethem try "Motherless Brooklyn" as your introduction and stick with his earlier works. Of course, I will read his next book hoping against hope that he returns to his earlier career level.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
What a terrible book. I only read 1/2 of it, and if I hadn't been sick, I probably would have stopped at 1/10. Don't waste your time with one. Since when do I care what ever became of the 1960's hippies?
LibraryThing member RickK
The premise of this book had promise, particularly given the troubling and uncomfortable times that we cannot escape today. The lead character, Phoebe Siegler could have been the star of the book but instead she was self absorbed, insecure, prone to tantrums and silly banter that made me cringe
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more than the Trump she was running from.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
I'm probably not the only reader out there who felt a little let down by Jonathan Lethem's recent output, but maybe we really do demand too much of our heroes: having written "Motherless Brooklyn" and "The Fortress of Solitude," I'm not sure if he has anything to prove to anyone. Even so, I thought
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that "Chronic City" was a major downer, a dull, plotless mess, so I kind of let him be for a while. "The Feral Detective" is the first Lethem I've picked up in a while and I'm glad to report that it is something like a return to form.

It also seems like a return to his natural inclinations. Lethem's books have always transmitted his love for genre writing -- specifically crime novels -- and with private eye and all-around mystery man Robert Heist, it feels that Lethem's back on solid ground. There are other echoes here, too: he still seems fascinated with the destructive fallout from the utopian living experiments of the late sixties and with gentrification and class divides, issues that have taken on new urgency in contemporary, Trumpified America.

As for the book itself, we follow a former lower-level media employee -- a New York girl if there ever was one -- scour the rural of highlands in search of a missing teenager. The natives are not friendly, and we make the acquaintance of some appropriately symbolic post-sixties animal-themed tribes, a plot development that will probably strike some readers as too on-the-nose. I'm not sure that Lethem means to be so neatly didactic though and the book is fast-moving and crisply written. A lot of California lit seems entranced by the state's awesome landscape, but the main character of "The Feral Detective" has a brain that won't shut up, and how much you'll like the book may depend on how high a tolerance for that sort of thing you have. This novel is both the search for a lost girl and for meaningful community in a fractured, exhausted America, but I feel that Lethem does just enough to avoid easy answers to make our tagging along on this trip worthwhile. It's true: we'll probably be seeing dozens of books that deal with how to form real bonds in the midst of our current national disarray, but not every writer out there has Lethem's steady hand, or his talent for writing appealingly addictive, flexible prose. I was glad to have found the author in good form here. Maybe I should check out some of the novels he wrote while the country was busy falling apart and I was busy reading other stuff.
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LibraryThing member Bruyere_C
Affected and implausible.
LibraryThing member cantbe20
Easily one of the worst books I have read in years. A huge disappointment after Motherless Brooklyn. Poor writing, ridiculous plot, and an unbelievable narrator. One star for me, just for showing up.


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