Excerpt from The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Feral Detective

A Novel

by Jonathan Lethem

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem X
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 336 pages
    Aug 2019, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Print Excerpt

"Jane Toth sent you?"

"Yes." Jane Toth was the social worker whose name the local police had given me after they'd finished shrugging off my expectation that they'd be any help in my search for Arabella Swados, whose trail had led to Upland. Eighteen-year-old Reed College dropouts three months missing didn't meet their standard for expanding their caseload. So I'd gone to fi Ms. Toth, a local specialist in destitutes and runaways. After subjecting me to a sequence of expectation-lowering gestures herself, she'd jotted Heist's name and number on the back of her card and mentioned his weird nickname. She'd also warned me that his methods were a little unorthodox, but he sometimes produced miraculous results for families with trails grown cold, like Arabella's.

"You bring some materials?"

"Sorry." I would try to stop saying that. I dug in my purse for Arabella's passport, with a photo taken just a year before, when she was seventeen. "I guess this means we don't have to look in Mexico."

"We're not that near to Mexico here, Ms. Siegler. But if you wanted, there are places you could cross the line with a driver's license."

"I don't think she has one." "Is she using credit cards?"

"She had one of her mom's, but she's not using it. We tried that."

"Or you wouldn't be here."

The passport I'd slid onto his desk was clean and tight, and the tension in the binding snapped it shut, not that he noticed. Heist—I should call him Charles, only he wasn't that to me, not yet—didn't look at the passport. He stared at me. I've endured my share of male strip-you-bare eyework, but this was more existentially blunt, souls meeting in a sunstruck clearing. For an instant he seemed as shook that I'd entered his office as I was.

"I guess you don't work along those lines so much, tracing documents and so on." Duh. I was blithering.

"Not at all."

"In high school she worked on an organic farm in Vermont." Saying this, I found myself flashing on the mountains, the blasted expanses I'd just ducked in from. The blue. Arabella and I, we were an awfully long way from Vermont's village green rendition of the rural now. "She got onto a kind of off-the-grid idea there, I think. You know, from similarly privileged kids who didn't know any better than she did."

"Off-the-grid isn't always a terrible idea." He said this without venting any disapproval my way, as much as I'd invited it.

"No, sure, I didn't mean that. So, that is the kind of thing you do?"

"Yes." Now the blue light of his stare was the same as that sky: killing me. Perhaps in mercy, he broke the tension, opened a desk drawer at his right. Of course a gun could come out. Or maybe this was the part of the script where he produced a bottle and two shot glasses. Perhaps I closely resembled the woman who had broken his heart. I leaned a little forward. The drawer was deep, and scraped free of the desk heavily. He scooped his hand down low and brought out a furry gray-striped football with a cone-like white snout and soft pink claws like the hands of a child's doll. I surprised myself knowing its right name without even trying—an opossum.

The creature's legs and thick bare tail dangled on either side of Heist's arm, but it wasn't dead. Its black eyes glistened. I sat back a little. The room had a warm woody smell, like underbrush, and now I credited it to the animal I hadn't known was hiding in the drawer. Heist stroked the creature with one blunt finger, from between its catlike ears, down its spine, seeming to hypnotize it. Or maybe it was me that was hypnotized.

"Does it work like a bloodhound?" I joked. "I forgot to bring a scrap of clothing."

"Her name is Jean." He spoke evenly, still unaffronted by my flip tone. "She's recovering from a urinary tract infection, if it doesn't kill her."

Excerpt from The Feral Detectiveby Jonathan Lethem. Copyright 2018 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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