If it’s not noticeable by now, crime dramas/thrillers are probably GD’s favorite genre. For that reason, this week I have to recommend a book that succeeds in its genre, but also expands on it in a fun and captivating way.
Motherless Brooklyn, written by Jonathan Lethem and published in 1999, focuses around Lionel Essrog, a private eye with Tourette’s, as he investigates the death of his mentor and uncovers a larger mystery concerning some very high powered players.
Despite it being out for so long, it’s only recently that I’ve read it, and that’s in part thanks to Edward Norton picking it up and adapting it for the screen. Nevertheless, the story is timeless, and the later you read it, the more fun it is to live in the Brooklyn of the story’s time.
Here are GD’s 10 reasons for reading Motherless Brooklyn:
1. The story is exciting. Although it’s a regular, noir-esque mystery, the people involved are all characters you either grow attached to or intrigued by, and you can’t help but want to know how they’re involved in the situation.
2. The connections and the thread Lionel must follow are detailed enough to give a direction, but not too much that they spoil the results. Lethem does a great job of providing you with enough clues to get your own idea of what’s going on and who’s responsible for what, but even if you don’t get it right, the resolution and endgame are so well done you can’t be disappointed.
3. It’s a very rich book. Aside from the main mystery, it also presents the reader with a very lovely backstory, peppered with enough danger and conflicts to deserve a book of its own. Lionel’s origins are honestly incredibly interesting, especially because of how he ended up working for Frank Minna and discovering his sort-of family.
4. Speaking of, Frank Minna is a very interesting guy. Considering the main point is figuring out why he died, I thought he won’t be around much, but he’s present throughout the book thanks to Lionel. He’s a mentor like I’ve never seen before, a guy both willing to be tough and bossy, but also affectionate and funny. The bond he had with Lionel and the other Minna Men was honestly endearing, and the dynamics between them felt fresh and natural.
5. Lionel Essrog is incredible. Narration and first-person POV can get a bit tiring or cheesy, but Lionel is not a regular narrator. Because of his Tourette’s, the story becomes much more colorful, and even though the book’s about a murder, you can’t help but laugh. The Tourette’s is written not as something to overcome or as a punchline, but as just another part of Lionel, and it’s expressed so creatively that it enrichens the story significantly.
6. You won’t be able to put the book down. Simple as that. It flows so well and it piques your interest so quickly, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve finished.
7. Despite it being very set in where it is, who the players are, and what the experience of being in that setting is, it’s still very much relatable and easy to picture. If anything, it’s incredibly pleasant to picture. Lethem paints Brooklyn in a very creative, but not pompous way, and despite only being words on a page, the pictures I got in my head were beautiful and cinematic.
8. The action is incredibly dynamic. Even during backstory or stake-outs, it doesn't seem to lull, which could be in part because we live the action through Lionel's ever alert brain, but it by no means gets exhausting. It's paced well enough that whenever it feels like slowing down, all you want is for it to pick back up, and it satisfies your craving. The execution of its story values (positive to negative or vice versa) is incredibly good and keeps you on your toes.
9. The conflict makes it such a fun read. You obviously have all the external issues of Lionel running into trouble trying to solve Minna's case, meeting helpful people and not so helpful people, but this conflict with the "outside world" is paired up with the one between the "inside", within the Minna Men, specifically Lionel and Tony. Add to that Lionel trying to get more control of his brain and you get the perfect mix of drama.
10. Although sparse, the women of the book do have agency. Julia appears to be quite a minor character in the beginning, but proves her value as a player later on (and the build-up and subsequent revelation are really nicely done). Similarly, Kimmerly might seem like a clueless love interest, but she provides the kind of action and reaction that is very much needed when solving one of the conflicts.
In all, this book was incredibly fun to read. Even just chapter 1 made me giddy to tell everyone I knew about it, so that's saying something. If you're interested in checking out the movie as well go for it, but know that it's significantly different from the book story-wise.
Till next time!