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


A voice behind the brass # 8 called, "It's open." I pushed in. The usual law of glaring sunlight applied, so I was blinded in the gloom. There wasn't a foyer or waiting area, let alone a secretary screening his appointments. I'd lurched into the so-called suite, a large, cluttered, murky space that grew darker when the voice said "Close the door" and I obeyed. In the instant I'd had to discern outlines, I made out the boat-sized desk, the figure behind it, the shapes along the walls, all inanimate. No other bodies waiting in ambush, I felt reasonably sure. I could be back through the door before he'd be around the desk. I had pepper spray and a tiny compressed-air klaxon horn in my purse. I'd never used either one, and the klaxon was maybe a joke.

"Phoebe Siegler?" The only lamp in the room sat on the desk. All I saw was jeans and boots. The lamp had for company only a landline, a heavy black office phone. No computer.

"Sorry I'm late," I said, just to say something.

He dropped his feet from the desk and rolled forward in his chair and my eyes adjusted first to find his worn red leather jacket, cut and detailed like a cowboy shirt, with white-leathertrimmed vest pockets and cuffs. The leather was so stiff and dry, it was as if a cowboy shirt had been cast in bronze, then spray-painted. An absurd jacket, though I came to take it for granted. More than that, as an emblem. I've still never seen another like it.

Above, his big head came into the light. His eyes were brown under bushy, devilishly arched brows. His hair streamed back from his wide forehead, and his sideburns were wide and beardy enough to seem to stream from his cheeks too. Like his whole face had pushed through a gap in a web of hair, I thought absurdly. Where the burns stopped he needed a shave, two days' worth at least. He resembled one of those pottery leaf-faces you find hanging on the sheds of wannabe-English gardens. His big nose and lips, his deep-cleft chin and philtrum, looked like ceramic or wood. Somehow, despite or because of all of this, I registered him as attractive, with an undertow of disgust. The disgust was perhaps at myself, for noticing.

A minor nagging mystery for me had always been what did Meryl see in Clint anyhow? I think I caught that movie on cable when I was eleven or twelve, and I'd found him only baffling and weird. So maybe that was the mystery I'd come all this way to solve. Realizing I find someone attractive is often like this for me, a catching-up of the brain to something as remote as if on some faraway planet. I guess I could cross it off my bucket list: I'd now felt a jerk on my chain for a fiftyish cowboyish fellow. Go figure.

That didn't mean I wanted to flirt. I was terrified, and showed it. He said, "I'm Charles Heist," and moved farther into the light, but didn't stick out his hand. My eyes adjusted enough to tabulate the array of stuff along the walls. On the left, a narrow iron-frame bed, with heaped-up blankets, and pillows lined the long way, against the wall. I hoped he wouldn't suggest I consider it a couch. On the right, a battered black case for an acoustic guitar, a two-drawer filing cabinet, and a long blond wood armoire, one I couldn't keep from noting would have been a pretty swank piece of Danish modern if it wasn't ruined. But this was my brain pinballing to irrelevancies.

He helped me out. "You said on the phone you were looking for someone." I'd called a number the day before and been called back—from the phone on the desk, perhaps.

"My friend's daughter, yes."

"Sit." He pointed at a folding chair between the file cabinet and armoire. While I took it and scissored it open for myself, he watched, seeming frankly unashamed not to show any gallantry. I preferred the desk between us for now, and maybe he felt this, so that in fact the deeper gallantry was on view.

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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